Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Composition arguments and teaching cynicism

I am having a cynical thought.  The shock!  Sorry for surprising you like that.  :)  I watched a training video at work where once again only evidence supporting the management's policy was shown, and the management openly concluded, "See, we were totally right!"  I thought back to some of the arguments swirling around college composition over the last decades and had to smile a bitter little smile.

I think maybe when I teach composition I won't use the reasoning, "We're teaching you how to make proper arguments, addressing both sides and proving your point, because you will surely need to exercise this skill set wherever your job takes you no matter what your job is!"  This is a lie.  A huge, huge lie.

However, I think it helps you to know how to make a good argument, so you can recognize a bad one your employer is making, so you can feel a little bit superior to those suits making tens of thousands more dollars than you from their corporate ivory towers . . .  Yes, a cynical moment.  Ahem. 

I am prepared for the smart aleck reply/question from a student challenging this belief about the benefits of composition classes in college.  It really is in your best interest to know how to spot a bad argument, not just for the feeling of intellectual superiority it gives you but also because bad arguments are everywhere.  People are constantly trying to persuade and convince you, and you need to know you need to know how to stand your ground and push back.  Unless you want to be swayed by the mindless beast of opinion, you need to know how to sift through what's being flung at you and arrive at an intelligent, reasoned decision. 

Your employers do not.  Your employers do not have to convince you.  You have to do what your employers say because they pay you, and unless it's morally objectionable (ASIDE: If I get stalked and killed, please sue my employer because it's their fault for making dumb and dangerous policies they don't have to carry out in the field), you have to bend to their arguments. 

But, no matter what, you have to keep thinking, or you'll be drowning in a sea of bad arguments you can't even see, suffocating for lack of reason both at work and outside of work.  I think it's better to see the world burning up around you than to be someone who blindly sprays gasoline around or throws more wood on the flames.  Maybe if you pay attention, you'll be able to help others around you by reminding them to stop, drop, and roll or stay low to get the better oxygen until you can find your way to fresh air again.

What explanations did your college composition teachers give you about the purpose of college comp?  Did anyone even ask about it in your class?  Have you ever thought about it?  What are your thoughts about composition's place in liberal arts education?

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