Arguing with Yourself


So, Jimmy was in class today and, for the first time in weeks, he actually made it through to the end.  (I know!  I was surprised, too!)

The bulk of the class was spent reviewing the writing process (“wait… have we done this before?”) and talking about the essay that I want them to begin writing about The Prestige.  My goal is to have them write an analytical piece about the novel (which we finished this week – I’ve attached their assignment below), then write an analytical piece about the film (which I’m going to hold as a bribe over their heads until they finish the writing about the novel), then I’m going to ask them to contrast the two.

A good portion of today’s class was spent in a discussion/argument between Jimmy on one side (but not really – more about that in a minute) and me and the rest of the class on the other.  His contention is that analysis work (what he charmingly called “dissecting” or “tearing something apart”) is detrimental to one’s appreciation of a thing.  He’s not interested in getting into the minute details of something – anything, really; poem, song, picture, novel – because his contention is that close inspection (and, you know, careful thinking) is not only pointless (because how can we know what an artist meant?) but also keeps us from fully enjoying the aesthetics of that thing.

Not long into his belabored explanation of his point (Chili’s note – one of the things that I WISH I could get my kids to understand is that a bigger vocabulary means a greater capacity to express oneself, but they just don’t see that…), one of the kids told Jimmy that he was contradicting himself.  He was arguing against his own point, and was, in fact, analyzing his position in order to explain why his position was wrong (I know; it sounds confusing, but if you met this kid, you’d totally get that this is exactly what was happening).  Now, I’d like to make perfectly clear that the person who was pointing the fact of his own self-condemnation was  NOT me; the other kids in the class were so annoyed with what he was saying (and with how he was saying it) that they essentially told him that he needs to quit trying to find a way to not do the work – he’s not complaining about the ANALYSIS (because he’s already doing that, whether he sees it or not); he’s complaining about having to do the WRITING.

I’m not at all convinced that he left the class any closer to understanding what we were trying to tell him than he was when we started this whole conversation, but I’m not sure that matters.  Several of the students – including a couple of kids who have thus far been pretty quiet and reserved – spoke eloquently and accurately about what it was I was asking them to do.  Whether or not Jimmy learns anything from this may have to take a back seat to the fact that, in arguing with him, a couple of kids I was still unsure of proved to me that THEY get it, and that may be enough for now – it may have to be.

image credit

Your homework for this weekend is to begin composing a critical analysis essay in which you explicate (look it up!) a theme in The Prestige.

For this weekend, I want you to get yourself to the point where you can begin writing.  That means I want you to:

• Choose a topic – this will be the theme you want to explore in the novel.  Remember we wrote a list on the board – things like deception, competition, ego, and pride – but you don’t have to choose only from that list.  I DO want you to clear your topic with me first, though, so I can make sure you’ve chosen something that you’ll be able to work with to a degree sufficient for the assignment, so please email me your decisions sometime this weekend.

•  Determine a purpose – your purpose here is to explain, though to justify would be an accurate description of what I want you to do here.  I want for you to make a claim about the message the novel is trying to convey and then use the text to justify or explain that claim.

•  Identify an audience – for the purposes of this paper, you can assume that your audience is familiar with your source document (that would be the novel, by the way).  Please DO NOT waste a lot of time explaining scenes or describing characters; please write from the assumption that a brief explanation of what you’re talking about is sufficient.

•  Organize/research – Please put together AT LEAST THREE (notice the emphasis?) pieces of evidence from the text that support the claim you’re making in your thesis statement, then go to the novel to find supporting scenes,
dialogue, or description that prove your position.  I offered a number of graphic organizers in class, but I’m not going to require their use; if you like them and you think they can be helpful in organizing your thinking about this paper, then by all means, use them, but if you want to organize your work in another way, you’re welcome to do that, too.

What I want is for you to get yourself organized to the point where you can begin writing, so you need to show me evidence of thinking and planning when we get back to school on Monday – that means have your notes and your plan ready, and be prepared to explain to me what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.

Questions?  Concerns?  You know how to reach me!



Filed under critical thinking, debate and persuasion, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, funniness, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., self-analysis, Yikes!

4 responses to “Arguing with Yourself

  1. Darci

    Just so you know, I have Jimmy’s 8th grade brother in my class. He argued with the class for 30 mins about Propaganda…fun stuff.

  2. Darci, I know it’s not nice to laugh, but I just can’t help it. My misery loves your company.

    They really are a pain in the ass, but there’s no denying they provide us with great material, don’t they? Seriously.

  3. Improbable Joe

    “one of the kids told Jimmy that he was contradicting himself. He was arguing against his own point, and was, in fact, analyzing his position in order to explain why his position was wrong (I know; it sounds confusing, but if you met this kid, you’d totally get that this is exactly what was happening). ”

    I get that totally… he was using more brain-sweat to rationalize not doing the work than it would have taken to actually turn in an acceptable bit of work. You might have given him a high grade in a philosophy class for his utter BS related to the work, and a low-but-passing grade if he had presented a passing reference to the actual book. If he had devoted the same effort to the assigned reading that he devoted to avoiding doing the assigned reading, he’d have probably gotten a pretty good grade?

  4. Sounds like the kids who put more effort into cheating than actually studying the material.

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