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Teaching to Argue NOT Fight

TeachHUB Blog

Is it just me or is rudeness EVERYWHERE?

 

No teacher would ever abide a student screaming insults at another student giving a presentation. Nor would you allow a student to interrupt someone talking during a class discussion.

Yet that’s the example coming from pop culture to the Capitol building, setting terrible examples for students.

 

Teachers aren’t even immune to this. On the Ms. P’s Place blog, Ms. P tries to argue the need for respect in the blogosphere in Beware the Darth Commenter. The simple post somehow garnered harsh accusatory comment that seemed to have nothing to do with the post and merely proved Mrs. P’s point.

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Discourse and discussion at this level does no one any good. It shows disrespect for the speaker and demonstrates just how little people actually listen to other people.

 

The bright side of these stories is that people recognized how rude and counterproductive these outburst are. It’s the wrong way to get a point across, proving just how essential it is to be able to argue intelligently and respectfully.

 

In an Ed Week article this week, argumentation as a skill also came up. A University of Chicago professor is calling for schools to focus less of knowledge of facts and more on learning to argue.

That students need to learn how to argue may come as a surprise to parents of strong-willed children… But logical arguments differ from the kinds of emotional arguments families experience, experts say, and most students possess only weak knowledge of how to recognize, understand, and construct one…

A 2007 study judged 12th graders persuasive writing ability:

  • 26% were marked “excellent” or “skillful”
  • 34% were marked “sufficient”
  • 27% were marked as an “uneven” performance  
  • 13% were marked “insufficient” 

I’ve seen this a lot when teaching my college composition class. Students have strong opinions, but they don’t know how to organize their ideas, support them with examples, or anticipate the opposing viewpoint. Logical arguments can become even more clouded when the topic is something they care deeply about like religion or politics.

 Teaching to Argue NOT Fight

In my class, the goal of every writing assignment or discussion post is to create a clear assertion that will persuade your reader with examples and evidence from the text. It’s all about argumentation. 

 

It’s so important to teach students that they can care, be passionate and believe in something without taking it personally.

 

Someone else’s ideas and beliefs are not an attack on you as a person. And if you really believe strongly in something, listening to another person’s ideas shouldn’t jeopardize those beliefs. The best way to make your argument stronger is to anticipate and hear the other side. That will force you to come up with answers to those questions intelligently and persuasively.

 

You don’t have to be an English teacher to teach arguing in your class. Any subject lends itself to debate and discussion.

 

If you’d like to integrate argument into your class, try:

  • Play devil’s advocate in class discussion
  • In-class debates 
  • Include essays debating hot topics in your subject on exams and in class
  • Write essays from the opposing viewpoint
  • Mock trial to enhance use of evidence

How do you teach students to argue NOT fight in your class?

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