Shaking things up

AP Language

September 22nd, 2015


Today we began moving away from the “read, annotate, write over a long piece” pattern we’ve held for the past few weeks by looking at an example essay from a past AP exam. I hope a new pattern prevents the burn out that has found its way into previous readings. Let me know what you think of the new plans:

Here are some previous topics we’ve investigated. Those bringing articles to class tomorrow may do well to choose according to their interest, as it may spark our decision.

We’ll choose a topic, learn all we can about it, have conversations about the arguments and data we find (credible? reasonable? just wrong?) and generally be better people for knowing about things. Good times.

  1. We can split if there is an even division of choice, but groups <10 in the past have succumbed to groupthink. []
  2. Yes, that is true of everything we do, but until your universities will accept a letter of recommendation from me in lieu of a letter grade, we are stuck. []
  3. That year Jonathan Safran Foer actually gave a talk at the school. We can always invite those relevant to our topic! []
  4. Not my idea; they suggested it. It was amazing. []

Why we study rhetoric

AP Language, Notes from Stallings

September 2nd, 2015

Themes: , ,

The goal isn’t to name the devices1 but to better understand how to make sense of the daily information deluge. Here’s a take on this that touches on the pathos we’ve been discussing:

  1. Though that is a lot of fun. []

Trump Trumps Trump (sigh)

AP Language

September 1st, 2015


Excellent conversation(s) today. Here are some links you asked for:

I’ll wrap up your essays and have them in the grade book tomorrow.

Don’t forget to bring a copy of the speech/argument you have chosen to replace the LBJ reading (here, if you’re interested). I’ll give you a moment in class to make a case for why we should read it. You could read a few lines, briefly present the argument contained, provide historical context, or provide just enough information to pique our interests… We’ll vote in class and I’ll make copies for everyone. Don’t fret if yours is not chosen—there will be plenty of time to read more after this one.1

  1. Of course, you could also pass out copies to everyone interested and start your own shadow classroom. []

Arguments, JFK

AP Language

August 25th, 2015

Themes: ,

We read and annotated JFK’s inaugural address yesterday, and I collected your Nixon analyses. Those will be back in your hands tomorrow with feedback. As always, I encourage you to make revisions, see me with questions, and turn them back in if you aren’t pleased with your progress.

Today we read three arguments that you brought in. A few patterns emerged:

  1. Not all of you are bringing articles. Please see the previous post for what I’m looking for, and below for a further explanation of what an argument is and is not. This leads into…
  2. Not all of you are clear about what constitutes an argument. This is good, because if you knew it you wouldn’t need to be here. This is less good because we have discussed this at length.

I would be remiss if I didn’t see the connection between #1 and #2, however, so here’s a brief look at arguments:

The simplest measure of an argument in your daily life is a question: “Can I attempt to refute this statement?” This is a good starting point. Take the following sentence:

Breaking Bad is an immoral television show.

Can you attempt to refute it? Sure: “No it isn’t.” Regardless of your personal belief, it is possible to attempt a refutation.1

Our trouble begins when an article merely reports the argument of another:

The Family Council claims that Breaking Bad is an immoral television show.

Is this an argument? Nope. It is a verifiable fact that our (fake, example) group has made this statement. This is where most of your non-argumentative articles fall, and something you should actively avoid.

To help clarify what an argument is, however, we can turn the above statement into one:

The Family Council incorrectly claims that Breaking Bad is an immoral television show.

Boom. Argument. Why? Because I could refute it with an argument demonstrating why people could benefit from the lessons Walter White teaches about chemistry and entrepreneurship.

Take a close look at the claims being foisted upon you daily. Make note of one and email it to me. We’ll look at the rest of your arguments tomorrow.

If you’re interested in things we’ll talk about later, or the above is still not clear:

The Toulmin model2 is a way of mapping informal arguments in a way that makes their parts (and lacuna) obvious. We can use the above example to clarify these elements.

Evidence/grounds/data consists of true statements about the world that are agreed upon by both sides in a perfect situation—”Breaking Bad is a television show” is agreed upon by both sides above. Other statements of fact in a more complete argument could be “Breaking Bad is rated TV-MA by the MPAA” or “It displays acts of violence.”

warrant is a connection (often implied) between the data and the thesis, or claim. “A rating of TV-MA indicates immorality,” or “Acts of violence are unnecessary in entertainment and immoral in themselves.”

If an audience shares an ethos, these warrants are often left unstated. This is similar to the enthymeme Aristotle made much of. If an audience is not in agreement (say, one side believes that violence is not inherently immoral), then the argument should begin with other common ground or provide backing for the warrants. (“Violent television can incite violence in viewers.”)

Finally, a claim is a declarative statement about the subject at hand that requires support from data and the warrant(s). (“Breaking Bad is an immoral television show.”)

There are other parts, as well, but the above are the most important. The author of an argument could also pose the claim with a qualification, through which case the claim is limited: “Breaking Bad is an improper show for children and teens.” This focuses the topic to a specific aspect of the issue at hand, and may include a bit of common ground (and an ethos boost): “Breaking Bad is an improper show for children and teens, but adults should be able to choose for themselves.” If both sides agree on the latter part, the audience may inwardly smile that the writer isn’t completely wrong.

  1. Note that there are no appeals or support for this argument. It is more rightly called a “claim,” but we’ll dig into the details at the bottom, if you’re interested. []
  2. see here for more info on the Toulmin model. Please also note that every resource online outlining this method is ugly. Check for yourself. []

Wrapping up Nixon

AP Language

August 21st, 2015

Themes: , ,

Nixon chilling with his dog. From

I gave you feedback on your Nixon outlines yesterday. Type up the final analysis this weekend (MLA format and such) to turn in on Monday. We’ll begin JFK’s inaugural address then. Email me if you get stuck1, but look to the big handout first—there is plenty of information there on terms and appeals to help you pull the ethos analysis together.

Tuesday we’ll have a chance to discuss arguments you bring, so keep your eye open in the next few days for one that grabs your attention. As is always the case with assignments like this, avoid simply googling “argument” or even “confederate flag argument”; we are inundated with arguments daily and I want to help make you aware of this.

If you’re interested, here’s the video of Nixon’s address.

Jump to mention of his wife (note the understated dress which, according to Wikipedia, was knitted by supporters).

  1. or even better, share on Google docs []