If you argue right, you can never be wrong

Class day. I’ve been trying to inspire students by empowering them; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. My prompt this time around uses Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking as an example of satire to examine the form’s efficacy in argument, commentary, and persuasion. Mostly, anyway. I mean, that’s the idea, at least. Really, the point of the prompt is the point of the class (and it’s very nearly the point of the movie): any intelligent person should be able to acknowledge every complex issue as beyond issues of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ and realize that every argument has its counter.

Today, one of my students surprised me. We had a speaker-series evening this week, where a Democrat and a Republican were meant to discuss the mobilization of young voters but which actually became a debate about technology and its efficacy. Which wasn’t bad, exactly, but seemed to be the wrong issue. The Republican called this “Politics for the iPod Generation,” and effused about how great technology is. At one point, he mentioned Live-Aid and how excellent it was that it had increased awareness of how many people in the world were starving.

I wanted to get up and say, well, perhaps, but how many of them are now eating.

Because awareness is all well and good, but should not be confused with action.

One other thing I mentioned was this iPod thing; not everyone has one, certainly. USC is smack between Compton and Watts, in Los Angeles; we get reports from the Department of Public Safety everyday, concerning muggings and etc. And I asked how many people around us actually had iPods, or access to the technology.

And my student raised his hand and said, sure, but one might wonder whether those people vote, anyway.

And it stopped me. Brilliant.

It brings up whole other issues, of course, but that’s beside the point. I was just thrilled to catch them thinking (rather than, you know, sleeping, which has occurred a few times this semester, now).

One thing I’ve noticed is that I think some of these students feel like those people who don’t vote. They seem to continuously seek “the right answer,” while the whole point of the course is that there isn’t one; there’s only their answers. Their papers don’t depend on what they say but how they make their case.

I think they’re getting it.

Here’s hoping.

By the way, new pictures over at Imagery.

9 thoughts on “If you argue right, you can never be wrong

  1. ALMA

    I think it’s partly our culture–especially, given the culture we’ve had post-9/11. There’s this American stance that right exists, and moreover, it’s good and it’s ours. A lot of ethnocentrism is rooted in that right stuff.

    I was on a blog the other day that talked about social media and how it would, one day, be as essential/ubiquitous as toliets. Me, being the good almost-gonna-be-paid teacher raised my hand and said, “Umm…what about those people who don’t know how to read because the school system’s failed them? What about those who don’t know how to use a mouse?” Again, with the two Americas.

    A part of me feels sick whenever I’m around my peers–meaning, college-educated, young, middle class–because we take so much for granted and don’t realize that, in the real world, it isn’t about our gadgets or our buzz words or our gimmicks. It’s about substance and what get you from here to there.

    I dunno. I used to live in what could only be called Denver’s ghetto. Sometimes, now that I’ve been out of that neighborhood for nearly four years, I pinch myself. I have all that I need–even AC. I don’t witness shootings while walking down the street. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to remember it’s not a dream. Because, really, this–this right here is pretty idyllic. Going to college and having enough is such a gift. People with privilege forget that what they have is precious.

    The thing is–out there, where I come from–where I’m going to be teaching this fall–right and wrong don’t exist. It’s what gets you to point b. It’s all contextual.

    What a privilege it is to be young and educated. Perhaps, they’re the only ones who can afford the luxury of being “right.”

  2. ALMA

    Sorry about the typos!

    Also, I forgot to say that I’m not making these kids out to be demons. I’m just saying our society sorta trains them to be that way.

    I also meant to say that the point of higher education shouldn’t be about the particular subjects. It should be about learning how to think and form opinions. Sadly, a lot of colleges miss the boat…partly because high school students are groomed into looking for right answers–so they can fill in all those answers on all those Scantron sheets.

  3. GOTHAMGIRL

    “At one point, he mentioned Live-Aid and how excellent it was that it had increased awareness of how many people in the world were starving. I wanted to get up and say, well, perhaps, but how many of them are now eating.”

    I don’t see how you can say this and then say “Just the fact that I’m more educated about Nazanin shows you made a difference” refering to my blog about educating people about Nazanin. You didn’t do any thing to help nazanin just as the people who watched live aide said to them selves “Oh how horrible that people are starving in ethiopia” then go on about their daily lives with out trying to do something about it.

    Sorry to be a buzz kill.

  4. WILL ENTREKIN

    @Alma-I think you’re right. I think we’re all trying to figure out what post-9/11 even means, besides “after everything changed, and nothing changed at all.” Ethnocentrism could certainly be part of it.

    @Gotham- I get that Nazanin is your pet cause, and I’m sorry some people, including me, didn’t react to it the way you would have wished. As I’ve said, I have as much difficulty believing a petition could do much good as I do that a concert might.

    That said, awareness is important, and, as G.I. Joe taught us all, half the battle.

    Unfortunately, it remains merely half.

  5. ALMA

    @Will: I think something did change. All the bad stuff that was happening before multiplied into new depths of atrocity–from all sides. That’s not to say there hasn’t been a lot of good work, but frankly, it isn’t enough to counter the bad.

    @Gotham: Okay…we get that you did something about Nazanin (I wouldn’t know…I never saw it), and that you were (are) unhappy about Will’s response. Fine. Maybe, that says something about Will…maybe, it doesn’t. But, honestly, it says a lot about your approach to it. Which, I think, is Will’s point about petitions. Will isn’t a heartless person. I’ve seen him support many causes. I think if he felt like your argument was convincing and that your proposed solution was the best to counteract the problem, he would have helped you in your cause. It’s like in teaching. If you teach something in one way, and it doesn’t reach your intended audience–sure, some of it is because of your audience. But you can’t call yourself a good teacher if you don’t change your approach. Obviously, what you did isn’t working…so try changing it to fit your audience. Maybe, then, they’ll respond. And, certainly, reminding someone every five minutes that they didn’t support you doesn’t exactly make them support you now or in the future.

  6. GOTHAMGIRL

    Knowing is half the battle. Half a battle isn’t a won battle. Action is. Sighning a petion is a action. Looking up more information is a action. Telling people about it is a action. Writing letters is a action. Volunteering is a action. One action does not win a battle but put together they do. If you choose not to belive in a petition that is fine. It’s one of many actions you had to choose from. You a person with a great deal of education. You a person who has traveled to more places then I have read of. You a person who has written passionately on how political change must occur in order to improve this country. You a person I have a great deal of respect for. What was your action?

    The other half of the battle is not won through inaction or blogging.

  7. WILL ENTREKIN

    I thought telling people is an action. Isn’t blogging telling people? I’m going to corroborate Alma, up above; if I’d thought a petition was the best way to counteract the problem, I would have written about it. I’ve often written about things simply to make people aware of them. I didn’t write about Nazanin because I didn’t believe I had anything really meaningful to contribute that hadn’t already been said. On the other hand, I’ll write about “Tent City” because I live in Los Angeles and I see the cultural disconnect. I’ll write about September 11th because I think more people should know what everyone in Manhattan went through that day. In both instances, I feel I have something unique to contribute that hasn’t already been said.

    I didn’t feel that way about Nazanin. You and everyone else seemed to have it pretty well covered.

    You choose the causes you support based on what you feel you can contribute to them, is my point, or at least, I do. Rather than focus on the unjust treatment of one woman, I’m more of the mind to point out that we (meaning: America) shouldn’t bomb the entire country.

    Finally, this bears out a single, further point; it’s great that you were so concerned about Nazanin, but where’s your righteous indignation concerning every other woman who’s been treated unjustly by their legal system.

    My point is: pick your battles.

    Because I pick mine. Carefully.

  8. GOTHAMGIRL

    I meant blogging wasn’t the other half of the battle along with inaction. I should have been more specific but I was trying to be… dramtic? I’m not sure if that’s the word I want. I wanted to end well. I have to work on that I guess.

    My point with this whole thing wasn’t you should have supported the Nazinin cause by sighing a petetion or bloging about it your self or contacting Nazanin or what ever else could have been done. My point with this whole thing was something could have been done and I don’t mean with just Nazanin.

    You have talked about how things have to change but little on what to do. It’s to easy point out the problems but alot harder to name the solutions. Amazingly when solutions are suggested people do little to implement them. This uppsets me but it uppsett me more when the people who are admired, gifted, blessed, or capable of greatness do little action. Martin Luther King said a “A Injustice anywher is a injustice every where” and Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, I was questioning some one capable of greatness. It’s clear that what I desired from this wasn’t going to happend because it was unfare to expect. Furthermore I wound up giving you more of the third degree then anybody deserves and annoyed the hell out of you and your readers. This wasn’t the place for this and the fact is their is no place for this. I appoligise for any mental discomfort and waste of mental energy I have caused you here.

  9. B-GIRL

    *Slowly steps around the discussion in the comments*

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this, simply because I go to school in one of the most expensive schools in the country. Not because I’m rich, mind you but because I worked hard to get in but I Just simply cannot relate with the other students, which is why I don’t try.

    There’s a certain sense of apathy. OK, what’s the new trend? Let me care about THAT with for the weekend when I’m not doing anything else. I’ll hand out a flyer or two because all the cool kids are doing it.

    That mentality kills me.

    I just wanted to commend the student that made the comment. Because I agree. It was brilliant.

    After all the crap I’ve been getting about my domestic violence auction, this was quite a refreshing read, thank you Will.


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