- Students formed groups of three and were given large sheets of paper along with the requisite crayons and magic markers. They were instructed to make a top-ten list (Letterman-style) of tips on how to argue. (In other words, how do you get other people to listen to you and accept what you’ve got to say?) I stressed that they have fun with it.
- After some time, students posted their lists on the walls around the classroom. Then each group presented their lists to the class, and we used the lists as departure points for discussion on what works and what doesn’t when arguing. Invariably, some of what students put on their lists is way out there (designed to be funny), but is very useful to discuss things like logical fallacies and unethical or tyrannical communication tactics.
- During the presentations of each groups list, I found it interesting and helpful to work towards some discussion of the difference between quarreling and academic argument. Also, I pushed a recent interest of mine regarding the popular assumption that argument must be agonistic–that argument must strive for the defeat of one’s opponent rather than for achieving common understanding and for revealing the truth of the matter. The discussion can be very interesting and enlightening around this subject.
- Ok, eventually (in the next class meeting), we were able to segue to a discussion of Aristotle’s artist proofs or persuasive appeals (logos, pathos, and ethos), as just one useful way to talk about persuasive tactics. As a class, we went through several examples or arguments in various media (assuming that all things are arguments), and asked the question “How is this argument constructed?” for each. The three examples that were particularly useful were a video clip regarding school from Professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State, a clip from Elie Wiesel’s speech “The Perils of Indifference,” and the slam poem “Totally Like Whatever” by Taylor Mali.
- As an extension of this discussion (given the theme in each of the arguments mentioned above), I found it useful to discuss the general sense of apathy or indifference I often observe in students. This, of course, can be tied directly to argument making, but can also be a much broader discussion. I chose to make it a little broader as it connected to the larger theme of our course–the aims of education.
Tag: presentation slides (page 1 of 2)
- As students walked in, I displayed McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map, pictured below, and asked that they freewrite on what they thought and felt about this map.
As usual, this really bothered some folks, resulting in comments like “that’s just wrong.” Others demonstrated a real misunderstanding of the physical universe, saying things like “that’s not how the world looks from outer space–it’s upside down.” This in itself created some nice discussion, but once I showed this clip from the TV show West Wing, things really heated up.
- From here, I paraphrased what Rich says about us being “drenched in assumptions” of the world and our place in it and that we must question those assumptions. Then we did a little group work where groups drafted discussion questions on Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken,” swapped questions with other groups, and then dug into the essay (using the discussion question along with other prompts I provided).
- After some time, groups shared their insights with the rest of the class, but the discussion didn’t get as deep as I would have liked (due mostly to a lack of preparation on the students’ parts). I’d hoped to get to another activity which would force them to “work” the text a little harder, but we ran out of time. We’ll do that activity next class. Time permitting, it could have been an extension activity for this class meeting. I’ve described it briefly below.
- Extension Activity: It’s called “Read, Summarize, Extend, Answer.” Project passages from the essay on the screen at the front of the room, toss a ball to some unsuspecting student and ask him or her to “read” the quote directly from the screen. That student in turn tosses the ball to another student who must “summarize” the quote using words of his or her own. After this, the student tosses the ball again to another person who must “extend” what the previous student said by adding other ideas, insights, connections, etc. Finally, this student tosses the ball again to another student who must answer a question displayed on the screen below the quote. (This question is designed to have the student make a connection between Rich’s essay and other texts and ideas we’ve been discussing in class.)
Instead of being bothered by [student behavior], I can be fascinated by it.
So, we’ve begun the conversation this week with a lesson designed to get them thinking critically about their own educational/schooling experiences. (I’m using the terms education and schooling synonymously for the time being, but I believe the two things to be very different, in deed. I hope my students will come to see this soon too.) Here’s how I ran the class:
- As students walked in, I had them read Ken Macrorie’s “The Poison Fish” and prepare answers to the following questions: What is engfish and what are its two varieties?, What causes engfish?, Is it a possible result of our educational or schooling experiences?, What can we do about it?, What word or phrase could you use to describe the opposite of engfish?
- After a few minutes, we begin the conversation of these questions. As they come to understand that engfish really is a kind of fake writing, I lead them to consider the possibility that school might ask us to become something we are not. Is their a transformative power to education? (By the way, I use the slides to the right to facilitate this lesson.)
- To provide a little more food for thought, I share with the students, this clip from the film Spanglish.
- The film clip generates a little more discussion before I have them get into groups of three or four to brainstorm and discuss some possible costs and benefits of schooling/education. I encourage them to think beyond the obvious, and I provide a few specific questions to push their discussion along.
- Ok, at this point, I tell students we’re going to break from the discussion to do something different–a little review of the syllabus before we get too far into the course. (This activity, of course, is designed to further illustrate or push the point about the power school has to shape at least our behavior–if not who we are.) I tell students that we are going to play a little game that I like to call “Carrot or the Stick.” Basically, I read questions about the course policies and choose students to answer. If they get it right, I literally toss them a bag of baby carrots (as a healthy alternative to candy, and as a nice illustration of the point). If they get the answer wrong, I take my trusty wooden ruler and literally whack the desk three times loudly saying, “wrong, wrong, wrong.” What good fun. We do this through a set of about ten questions, and then talk about the use of “carrot and stick” tactics in school–literally and figuratively. Can grades be used like carrots and sticks, I ask?
- This brings us to a the idea of conditioned behavior. No such conversation would be complete without the inclusion of B.F. Skinner and his very well trained pigeons. I show this clip, and ask the question “Are we being conditioned?” among these other questions. We talk about the possibility that grades as they are used in school can have a conditioning effect on our behavior, and then we consider the ethics of such methods.
- The point of all this, I tell students, is that we need to raise our level of critical awareness of what we are doing. Are we actively participating in a process that shapes who we are and how we think? Or are we letting this entire experience wash over us, as we sit passively allowing ourselves to be changed by it. As a means of managing or lessoning carrot-and-stick tactics in our course, I suggest we use a “learning contract” where they make some choices at the start of the course regarding their own course of study. I want them to have this freedom of choice (albeit structured choice). I think at the very least this puts students in a more active role than they are accustomed to when it comes to school. It’s a start anyway.
Next week, we’ll be reading and writing in response to Adrienne Rich’s “When We Dead Awaken.” So, we’ll see what next week brings us, or should I say where we decide to go next week…