Improving My Argument

*A continuation of the Counting My Chickens series*

I’m soliciting advice on how to present a particular argument.  Your input would be most appreciated.

improve your argumentimage credit

I am prepping to give a writing workshop at CPS on Friday, and I was going through the folder of information Dr. Wong gave me a few weeks ago when I first visited the school.  In it are fliers about the grading system, the dress code, tuition, things like that.  Included in the packet is the school’s handbook, and in that handbook is a whole section about “Respectful Language.”

Oh, boy; here we go….

I’ve written about how I feel about “colorful language” a number of times (notably here. There are other posts, too, I’m sure, but I don’t have the patience to look them up right now).  I feel – and have always felt – as though it’s my job as a teacher to give kids a strong command of their language – ALL of their language – and to teach them when it’s appropriate to use which rhetorical strategies.  Sometimes, and particularly when we’re engaging in creative endeavors, a particular of class of words is required to get across the true tenor of one’s meaning.  Those words exist for a reason, and part of my job is to make sure my students understand both when they need to employ them and when the rhetorical situation allows for it.

Like a fucking lady

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The upshot of the section in the handbook is that if you have a strong enough vocabulary, you don’t need to utter imprecations.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that, and I’m trying to figure out a way to present that case in a way that is clear, logical, and defensible.  If I’m going to be asked to join this staff, I cannot have a limitation placed on what I can and cannot accept from students in terms of their own self-expression (and, not for nothing, “blasphemy” is listed as a no-no, as well.  Insert derisive snort here).
I have success with my students because I work hard to build an environment where they know they’re safe to explore what they really think and feel, not just what they think they’re expected to think and feel.  I work hard to create a truly judgment-neutral zone in the classroom so that kids can dismiss their inner critics and stroll out on limbs of thinking they’re not certain will support their weight.  I want them to dig under their proverbial beds, to open their proverbial closet doors, and to peek at their proverbial boogeymen, and to trust that I’m going to be there to help them find a way to get those ideas out of their heads in satisfying ways;  the only way I can do that is if I let them know that – at least in this class – they’re free to express themselves as authentically and as openly as they’re able to.  Sometimes (often, in fact), that expression is raw and painful and ugly, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.  Sometimes, the only way into a really great idea or a profound self-discovery is through the fucking wars, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.

If I’m going to be asked to teach anything beyond the basics of grammar and business writing etiquette (I can NEVER spell that word right the first time!), I’m going to require that there be nothing off limits for my students to write or say within the walls of our classroom.  I will make certain that they have a very clear and firm understanding of social contracts, and I will continue to reinforce the concept of rhetorical situations and the importance of tailoring one’s message to one’s audience, but I can’t function if I’m to treat an entire mode of expression as taboo.



Filed under about writing, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, General Griping, great writing, job hunting, lesson planning, politics, rhetoric, speaking, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

6 responses to “Improving My Argument

  1. All of your discussion of this school has included things that will not work for you, that you “cannot” do, that do not meet with the ways in which you choose to live your life. It seems as though, if there are so many things that would need to change in either you or the school before you will agree to teach there, that it just might not be a very good fit. Something to consider.

  2. Oh, don’t think for a second that I’m not considering.

    Despite my hesitations (and recognize that I’m focusing hard on the negatives), I think that there might be a chance to not only get in some great teaching, but also to do some serious learning. I’m investigating the presentation of this potential opportunity in my life with some curiosity; if it’s true that everything happens for a reason, then perhaps this place represents an important stop in my professional journey. I’m open to that as a possibility, anyway.

  3. Terry

    I actually came to the comments to say something along the lines of what Kizzbeth said (better than I will). The line that gave me pause was “Insert derisive snort here.” I know you have a great sense of humor and I am sure that was meant with a more cheerful tone than it sounds. But I also wondered if you are already feeling “derisive”, why would you want to work there? You want them to respect your philosophies and pedagogy, but you seem to want to spend your time dismantling theirs. Do you want to teach there, genuinely; do you want to spend your days in constant opposition? Is there really anything there that you actually embrace?

  4. The derisive snort was out of line. I’m approaching this whole opportunity with a lot of trepidation for a lot of reasons, and I’m afraid I’m only giving you guys the negatives. My thinking is that if I draw all the cons out into the light and we still decide we want to give this a try, then CPS and I might just work. I’ll have a better feel for what to do after Friday; I promise to fill you in ASAP.

  5. bookmammal

    Would you like a totally unbiased perspective from someone who only “knows you” through your blogs and has absolutely no personal investment in this decision? OK then! From where I’m sitting, I’m seeing a lot of mental and emotional gymnastics to try to make this position fit your needs of what you need a job/career to be. Forcing anything to fit rarely ends well–whether it’s a pair of high heels that you love and are on sale but are a size too small, or whether it’s a job that will ultimately not only affect you but will also affect your family and your possible future students. If you’re having to do too much manipulating to make it fit, that’s a probable sign that it just might not be right. Don’t let yourself settle–hold out for what will truly satisfy and fulfill you! If this job turns out to be what you think will be a safe place to fully use your talents and passion, then go for it! If it feels more like a struggle to justify taking the position–then it probably isn’t for you. (OK–I’m done! You did mention awhile back that you wanted more comments!)

  6. OKP

    What if I want to learn to express myself without those imprecations? I’m not talking about mild oaths. I understand the “damn”, “crap”, and “asshat” triggers well enough. I would of course appreciate a teacher who allowed me to express myself in any way I wanted (within the boundaries of our social contract — no hate speech, etc.), but as a student who wants to navigate the real world, wouldn’t it me powerful to learn how to “improve my argument” without feeling it necessary to swear at/around people?

    I get it, I think. It’s very Cieronian — the concept of the right word at the right time means that a “fuck” or “Jesus Christ” might pop out — and I think it’s valuable to let kids express themselves. I suppose I think that it may be just as valuable for students to learn to navigate more complex language, with more nuance. “Raw and ugly” will accomplish something; is it what the writer or speaker wanted it to? And if it doesn’t, what would work better? And how does the writer/speaker cope with the raw and ugly stuff already written or spoken?

    To see that blasphemy and imprecations are a way to express oneself, but that there are other ways that accomplish different objectives with different audiences. Some forms of expression can hard on the ethos.

    I realize the irony of talking about rhetoric in this haphazard manner with half-assed understanding, but hey, Internet. Right? The long and the short of it is that you want kids to be able to write anything, which is commendable and I respect it.

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