with Jayne Besjak
It was great to see everyone in class today to kick off our spring semester! We jumped right into our persuasive writing material and began building some of the foundation for what will become the student “toolkit” for crafting sound, well-reasoned arguments. We covered a lot of ground in this first class, and I strongly advise that students review the handout I provided before they complete the homework assignment.
We began by looking at a mock curfew scenario where a teen with a newly minted drivers license has just been dealt the blow that their parents have set an earlier than expected weekend curfew. How can the teen construct a convincing argument for a later curfew that their parents would actually listen to? We will continue to refer back to this hypothetical scenario in the coming weeks as we step through the process of building sound, well-reasoned arguments.
Defining Our Terms
We spent a large portion of the class defining key terminology, including: argument, rhetoric, logic, and deductive vs. inductive reasoning. Students should understand that an argument, in the context of this class, is defined as a means of providing evidence or proof to support what you believe. And, that the main objective is not necessarily to “win” but rather to determine what is right and true. This is best done by approaching all topics (and debates) with humility and openness.
We will be using Aristotle’s Common Topics as the foundation for understanding and building our arguments. The Common Topics are a set of argument categories or techniques that allow the writer/speaker to uncover all the possible valid arguments for a topic. Each week we will look at examples of these techniques in a variety of persuasive forms – speeches, editorials, advertising, etc. In the coming weeks, students will develop their own persuasive writing pieces based on topics of their choice.
The first Common Topic is known simply as Definition. This is the important first step of preparing for your argument and involves:
I provided students with a list of techniques for defining the terms of their argument. We did not have time in class to go over these in any depth, but students did read an excerpt from Harold Ickes’ speech “What is an American?” and looked at Ickes’ use of several of these definition devices. If students are interested in reading the entire speech to better understand its context, you may find it HERE.
For homework this week students should read the definition essay I provided and then choose one of the list words on the homework handout to construct their own definition paragraph. Remember - I am asking you to use several definition techniques to provide a clear definition of the word as you understand it. Do not write a thesis statement or argue a point – this is strictly a definition exercise.
Good luck and see you in class next Monday!
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