A Most Persuasive Argument

The persuasive essay is an interesting conundrum. I appreciate the idea that we ought to teach people methods of persuasion, and that they need to know how to judge an argument’s reliability. I even have simplified methods of helping students distinguish between pathos, ethos, and logos arguments. Then I try to convince them of the efficacy of a good counterargument, and finally they choose their topic to write an essay. Of course an essay! Without them, I wouldn’t have as much great material to write about. However, the essays in English class always seem so contrived. “Choose a controversial topic and write an essay arguing one side. Do not choose [terrible topic a, b, or c].”

But Miss BB, I can write about that! It will be good, I promise.

It never is. All of their arguments are emotional, or so misinformed it makes a teacher want to weep. It’s not my favorite essay to teach, but it does provide some excellent studentisms.

I chose to write about this particular studentism today because it seems timely. There will, I think, always be a number of things that are political hot-button issues; guns will probably remain on that list for some time. I have read quite a few essays touting the need for gun control, and quite a few arguing that guns are good to have around. As with any good persuasive argument, there must be a variety of reasons supporting the thesis. This student supports the argument that guns are good with a particularly convincing argument: “Guns are necessary because they are for self defense against strange people.

Would this classify as strange?

What an interesting concept. We should defend ourselves against strange people. It does beg a question or two. Thousand. I’m not sure any of the questions actually have answers. Indeed, I’m uncertain I should speculate too deeply on that one; I might come to some socially or morally incorrect conclusions.

So what does a teacher do when faced with such a statement? It really depends on her mood. In this case, I laughed and added it to my studentism list. Should I have tried to correct the student? Probably, but there is that irrefutable logic inherent in the statement, and I just couldn’t bring myself to correct it with a straight face. Does that make me one of the strange people against whom we should all be defended?

Oh, My Poor Nerves!

Everyone gets nervous from time to time. Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is famous for her nerves, ostensibly brought on by having five daughters to marry off and not enough fortune to make them desirable to prospective husbands. Some have speculated that her nerves came from having a husband who was far her intellectual superior (and her social superior as well) decide she wasn’t much worth his time after all. The poor woman had to do something to get his attention.

Mrs. Bennet from the A&E/BBC 1995 Production looking nervous

In any case, Mrs. Bennet is not the only person to ever have a nervous complaint, and as I said, everyone has had a case of nerves once or twice. I tell my students that I am nervous the first day of school, meeting a whole crop of new people, hoping that I’ve improved my skills enough that I can properly teach them, wondering if this is the class that is going to realise that they outnumber me and I can’t really do anything to stop them if they decide to mutiny. Well…I don’t tell them that last part. I do assure them of my nerves and genuine shyness when I introduce to them their first oral assignment. Of course, when I go all actor-dramatic on them to get their attention during Shakespeare, and play four roles at once, including a weeping, distraught Romeo, some of them accuse me of not being shy at all. I look at them in feigned bewilderment and reply, “That’s not shyness. That’s acting.” Then we continue our discussion of Romeo’s extreme emo-ness. He was probably nervous too.

However, I have never seen or read of anyone so nervous as one of my students apparently was. My students write autobiographically from time to time, and one student confided in an essay, “I was so nervous, it felt like my heart would fall out of my butt.” Now my friends, that is nervous. It’s also a marvelous example of original figurative language gone horribly graphic. At least they didn’t use a cliché. I love when students use their imaginations to come up with something glorious. Though this student may need a little refinement as time goes by, I am thrilled by the potential.


Incredible Feats of Strength

It is amazing what my students can do. Occasionally I wonder why, if they can do all the unbelievable things they write about, they cannot finish their homework. But I digress. Today’s studentism needed the whole family to accomplish, and it really did warm my heart to know they all worked together so well.

In today’s world of families falling apart, ignoring each other in favor of–anything, really, and going their own way as much as possible, I was thrilled that some students have families that work toward a common goal. I do wish more families were like that. I love having a family that, though it has many disparate parts, works together when something needs to happen.

I can only assume that the family of the student who wrote this is the same: when they see something that needs to be done, they all get together and figure out how to make it work. This is obviously a family with goals, dreams, and the wherewithal to make it happen. If you’re not convinced, check out what the student wrote; you’ll become a believer:

My mom, my brothers, my sister and I were getting ready to move Minnesota.

Another Incredible Family

Wow. In an incredible demonstration of family togetherness and problem solving, they were about to move Minnesota. Where they thought Minnesota needed to go, or how they eventually decided they would move it aren’t explained. Perhaps they had begun with the District of Columbia, or had previously worked on moving Rhode Island, and felt that with their prior experience, they could safely move Minnesota.

I suppose in the end they realized the task was too much for them, which is why our maps haven’t been redrawn. However, even the thought of taking on such a daunting task is so beyond my purview that I’m amazed this student could write about such a thing so casually.

At least it wasn’t Texas.

Anne Frank had a Dairy?

I was taught to be observant, and to take note of things of interest. I recall family conversations centering around misplaced modifiers (now that I teach them, I know what they are called)–those intriguing bits of sentences that make you tip your head to one side and look puzzled, if you pay attention. They have always amused me. Now, I wish I could draw the wealth of fun word pictures unknowingly provided me by perfectly serious students.

Julien Dupré “A Milkmaid With Her Cows On A Summer Day”

The first studentism I collected was during my student teaching. I planned and taught a unit, all on my own, to a class of 8th grade honors English students. It taught me many things, not the least of which that Anne Frank, with all due respect, had a dairy. It is a simple typo that I happened to see far too many times as I graded that first set of essays. But the crowning glory was when I learned that “In the dairy of Anne Frank, Anne and her family lived for two years in the attic of her father’s factory, which was behind a bookshelf.” (I’m afraid I can’t cite any of my studentisms; I didn’t keep any attributing information to protect the innocent.) It left me wondering: how big was that infamous bookshelf?

Not Anne Frank’s father’s factory bookshelf–but a very cool bookshelf nonetheless.

That was the first time I realized that a teacher really ought to know how to draw. It also made it difficult to take any of the essays on a very poignant, serious subject seriously at all.

As mentioned previously, I have collected an alarmingly large number of these little gems in the years since. I do hope you enjoy them as I do. They certainly make grading hundreds of essays more palatable.