Teaching Arguments Book Review

I’ve chosen to do a bulleted list of the most interesting/useful/new-to-me ideas I’ve gleaned from Fletcher’s book.

  • The first would be the doubting/believing game. We often just breeze through reading and come to superficial conclusions about the author’s ideas or points of view. This game forces us to “comprehend a text before we critique it” (Fletcher 6). If someone is arguing their side and we stand there with our fingers in our ears humming, how can we accurately respond to their ideas? To argue properly, we have to have to ability to (truthfully) say, “I can see where you’re coming from, however…” On the other hand, when we are “the choir the writer’s preaching to” (Fletcher 28), this game also encourages us to distances ourselves and view the matter critically and objectively.
  • Fletcher helps us understand that our “audience” is not some static, fixed-in-time, hive-mind. Though we should of course try to hone in on who we’re writing to, our audience will be full of people with ever-changing feelings, opinions, and circumstances. We as writers and teachers of writers need to be cognizant of Kairos, “the opportune time for action” (Fletcher 58), a moment in history where things are in flux, or fluid. I think of it as being able to take the temperature of the room, knowing whether or not your readers or listeners are more likely to be receptive or susceptible to your arguments at this point in time. As I was reading, I kept thinking of a moment from the show Parks and Rec. Leslie, the main character, is campaigning for office against the spoiled son of an unpleasant businessman named Nick Newport. At one of her rallies, a reporter asks her if she has any comments on Mr. Newport. Leslie responds that she thinks his business is poisoning this town and that he’s “a jerk.” The reporter clarifies, “No, I meant did you have any comments about his death this morning?” Obviously, that was not the right moment in time to air her grievances in front of reporters, and it illustrates the importance of knowing the right time to speak on a matter.
  • I enjoyed Fletcher’s explanation of Logos, Pathos, and (I keep wanting to say Eros now, because of her) Ethos. Up till this point, I actually didn’t have that much background knowledge of those devices. I appreciated the point she made about how they often overlap, and how one doesn’t really work in complete isolation. For instance, when a writer wants to effectively utilize Ethos (“Listen to me! I’m trustworthy!”), they have to include elements from Logos (how can we trust your credibility if you can’t make your points logically?) and Pathos (why should we trust you as a fellow human if your argument is lacking passion and empathy?). I also liked her quote explaining Pathos as “the catalyst that transforms ‘I know it’s good for me, but I still don’t care’ into ‘I’m doing this today’” (Fletcher 186).
  • One of the very useful things I’ve taken from this book and this class is the importance of showing personal examples and letting students know that you didn’t just arrive in this world, head full of Literature, grammar, writing skills, and teaching strategies. We as student teachers had to work to get where we are. The problem is, students often see us as humanoid knowledge-dispensers, not as people with histories and lives outside the classroom. Students need to understand that this knowledge is not mythic, it’s attainable. If they’re willing to put up the same struggle we put up, they can get similar results. I also loved the bit about showing students how to make the reading/studying experience more enjoyable (finding a cozy place to sit and a cuppa whatever-you-like). When studying for my Professional exam, I always had a cup of coffee, a snack, and my Pandora set to “Electronic Music for Studying.” It makes the process much more pleasant.

One thought on “Teaching Arguments Book Review

  1. Wow! Love everything your brought to this post! My favorite line, “Students need to understand that this knowledge is not mythic, it’s attainable. If they’re willing to put up the same struggle we put up, they can get similar results.” This book is so rich, that I’ve often thought of making it a required text for this course! Good work making the content relevant. I love the P&R reference. You found much in here to carry on!

    Liked by 1 person

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