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Cathy Davidson, “Project Classroom Makeover”

Oliver Sacks, “The Mind’s Eye”

Malcolm Gladwell, “The Power of Context”

Like other writers whose work we have read this semester, Malcolm Gladwell presents readers with an idea that seems counterintuitive: he argues that “the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior” (161). Knowing full well how readers might react to such an idea, Gladwell notes that what he calls a “fact” appears to “violate some of our most deeply held assumptions about human nature” (161). For our fifth paper, apply Gladwell’s ideas to “The Mind’s Eye” and Cathy Davidson, “Project Classroom Makeover” we have read to answer this question: How might two other readings we have encountered complicate, contradict, or confirm the “power of context?”

Here are some questions to get you thinking. You do not need to answer them in the body of your essay, but brainstorming responses to them–and consulting the text while doing so–should lead to a more sophisticated final product:

1. Gladwell calls the Goetz case “a symbol of a particular, dark moment in New York City history” (150). What did the case symbolize in 1984? What does it symbolize to Gladwell?

2. Gladwell states that “an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment” (155). What does he mean by “tinkering” here and where do we see such “tinkering” in other readings?

3. What do the people Gladwell examines, such as Berard Goetz, William Bratton, and Philip Zimbardo, have in common? What do they want and how does what Gladwell calls the “Power of Context” affect their pursuits? How are they like or unlike figures from other essays we have read?

4. When discussing Zimbardo’s conclusions, Gladwell notes, “Zimbardo isn’t talking about environment” (158). What are the differences between “context” and “environment?” How do other writers examine this difference?


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