Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Debates, Family Trees, and Parodies of the Classroom...

"If you're going to write about.... talk about things that are as old as mankind, you have to find a new, fresh way to make people interested..." Pete Hamill, Novelist, Journalist

Today, the first of my graduate students headed out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to present at the SW/TX Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference. This is the first year that I won’t be attending with them, and so I’m thinking about all their hard work and their potential for such great things – even as I pack for my own trip. Tomorrow morning, I’ll head out to Denton, Texas with five of my closest friends, favorite colleagues, and best First Year Composition instructors I know. We’re off to attend the Federation Rhetoric Symposium (FRS), hosted by Texas Woman’s University, a conference that I had the honor to chair twice (in 2006 and again 2008 with the co-chairing skills of my dearest friend, Dr. Rochelle Gregory). The FRS has featured plenary speakers such as Wayne Booth, Richard Enos, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Kenneth Burke, Stephen Toulmin, and James Kinneavy. This year, the speaker is Dr. Patricia Bizzell, past president of the Rhetoric Society of America.

Though our little group’s “number six” (Dorothy! We miss you already!) will be staying here to hold down the fort, so to speak (oh, and finishing an amazing stage managing gig for Sweeney Todd), the rest of us – Isaac Sundermann, Constance Little, Gillian Collie, Jason Saphara, and Kevin Van Winkle, and I – will be presenting a roundtable discussion titled “Toward a New 21st-Century Pedagogy: Consistency, Collaboration, and Civic Discourse in First Year Composition Programming.”  If you hadn’t guessed, I’m excited to head back “home” and talk about the astounding things we’re accomplishing in our program at CSU-Pueblo.

Obviously, I have a lot I'd like to continue to think about and discuss in today's blog, but what's more important is that I have a lot I must cover. In this case the "musts" win, and so I'll keep my comments, from here on out, short and to the point on this beautiful Colorado morning. "Doubtful," you say??? No. Watch and be amazed as the wonderful and wise Dr. Donna Souder uses her skills of rhetoric for good! Bahhhwahahaha...

Yesterday, my amazing undergraduates had a debate. The resolution they addressed was as follows: Socrates was not a real person; he was a fictional character in Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato’s collective, literary imagination.

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that this lesson emerged (earlier than planned) as the result of one student’s sincere inquiry: “Dr. Souder, if we only ‘know’ Socrates through Plato’s dialogues, how do we know he’s not a figment of Plato’s imagination?” It was great question from a wonderful student and one that was certainly worthy of more class discussion. From this ingle question, I began a mini-version of a longer “Socratic Problem” lecture, and my students were asked to take it from there. I divided them, randomly, into 2 large groups. Next, following the classical model of argumentation (exordium, narratio, partitio, and so on), they had one day to prepare and present their assigned sides in the argument (we flipped a coin, if you wondered). Each section was worth a certain number of points (the exordium was only 5, for example, while the narratio was worth 10), and we had two guest judges (Gillian Collie and Dorothy Heedt) who took notes, asked questions at the end, and, I think, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. After about 30 minutes of discussion among the 3 judges, we each tallied our points – which left me to tally the other points won and lost this morning.

The other points were awarded and tallied by me, and each side earned (or lost) points for calling out the other side’s use of logical, ethical, or emotional fallacies (red herrings, bandwagon appeals, slippery-slope, etc). I didn’t deduct points if a group was, justly, called out. Instead, I awarded points (1) for each fallacy pointed out, and I deducted points (2) if the fallacy called out was incorrectly – or, in some cases, when the calling out led to its own fallacy. Also, please note that, this time, we didn’t “judge” any speaker or either group on strength of speaking style or general presentation skills (that’ll be debate #2!). Here are some thoughts from our judges:

“I was very impressed by the way that your arguments were presented. I found myself shifting my perspective back and forth based on the tones that you took, which shifted appropriately from serious to slightly sardonic, at times with a sense of urgency. Never once did it seem that one side was mocking the other, which can happen easily in shorter, timed debates. In addition, the research you conducted in a short period of time was very effective, the con group's use of the 30 tyrants was particularly interesting, and the argument that Socrates was a constructed scapegoat was very convincing. At the same time, the con group's use of Socrates' methodology as justification for the lack of written records was a good choice. If you were to continue this debate, these are ideas I think you could develop.” –Dorothy Heedt

“I was impressed by the students' professionalism.  On the con side, I especially liked the mention that Socrates appears in three separate texts by three separate authors.  On the pro side, I really liked the idea that the "character" was used as a scapegoat for Plato...  Well done!”
–Gillian Collie

Nice, huh? So, without further ado, here’s how the points broke down, after the debate, but before I tallied the fallacies this morning (I’ll forgo a more specific play-by-play until class next week)…

“Pro” group = 18 points; “Con” group = 22 points.

BUUUUTTT…after the fallacies were tallied?

“Pro” group = 21 points; “Con” group = 20 points.

So, the winner? The group that affirmed the resolution! It was an interesting outcome, for sure. The negative side definitely had the upper hand at the end of the classical-styled argument (it was close, and they risked a LOT by calling out as many as a dozen fallacies), but, in the end, the affirmative side kept it simple and won.

Now, on to the biggie, the PRIZE… Homework.

Winning side, take a rest! You did well, and you’re being rewarded for your efforts.

Con side? You guys did an AMAZING job, and so, no textbook homework this week for you either. Instead, I’ll ask your side to simply write a substantive response (250-300 words) to this blog before Sunday at 11pm. What did you think of the debate experience? Would you like to do this again? If I made you switch sides, how would you approach the “affirmative” argument differently that yesterday’s group did?

Yes, it’s a little vacation for everyone… bravo! I’ll see everyone in class next Thursday; and, in the meantime, get to work with your team members on ideas/brainstorming for the pedagogy project. I’ll be in my office all day on Tuesday – if you have any questions. You know, about anything.

Graduate Students, English 501…
we had an equally interesting class last night. I promised I’d share a funny parody with them here, one we discussed in class, created by students in a Mass Communications class at the University of Denver. It’s mimics television’s “The Office” style for the  camera work, and it pokes fun at teachers who talk about technology in classes but who fail to really encourage or use technology themselves in those same classes.

So, we talked about technology in the classroom (pedagogies!) and we discussed Richard Enos’s thoughts on reclaiming rhetorical research. Indeed, what does primary research look like – what could it look like – in a class such as ours? To this end, we talked, at length, about the upcoming work they’d all be doing on the rhetorical genealogy of the CSU-Pueblo English faculty. They’re working in small groups in order to explore (and create!) a sort of writing theories “family tree.” These students are being influenced by the graduate faculty in our department, but our graduate faculty were influenced by a number of influential academics, and, I argue, we’re all interconnected in a myriad of ways. It’s a way to make rhetoric – real, live, working rhetoric and writing – come alive, and, I hope, allows my students to see how they have become an integral part of a rich and vibrant history of academia.

This project will require a number of interviews, several emails, and perhaps a phone call or two, and, in the end, we’ll create (on the jumbo board outside my office) a visual representation of the projects findings. This means, not only will they have to do a lot of work within their small groups, but the entire class will be talking, thinking, and making connections -- together. I imagine, when we all come together to share our findings, that we’ll have a scene not too different from the floor of the NY Stock Exchange. “TWU! TWU!” “Kinneavy! Booth!” “Chicago, 1923!”

Later today, I’ll be posting the updated, and complete, Theories of Writing reading list, so make sure to check back! The link/document will be right here: ENG 501 READINGS CALENDAR (Revised 2-11-10)

In the meantime, have a great day, safe travels, and remember to use your skills of rhetoric for good and never evil. –DR. DONNA


  1. HA!! I read this first!! I'm the first one to see the results!!! Mwhaha!! Good job everyone!! I think this debate went well and it was pretty awesome. I definitely want to do something like this again! Have fun on your mini-vac Donna!
    Mucho love,

  2. Excellent parody video--may have to steal it!

  3. People, people! This is no "vacay" (mini or otherwise!!). This is work -- the worst kind. Work where people look at you, judge you, and comment on your shoes (grrrr, conferences!). Wait, this is sorta like what I do everyday, huh?

    Chris -- steal away! I totally robbed it from yesterday's Chronicle. :)

    AND, just to clarify? The "PRO" side was Jean-Luc, Samantha, Chris, Chance, Josh E., Mackenzie, Josh A., Hillary, Kelly, and Amanda.
    BUT?? Great job by EVERYONE (hence the amended homework -- evidence of my luuuuuuv for you all). --DR. SOUDER

  4. Ok my bad, it's not a vacation. But nonetheless, I'm going to miss you!! But of course you're going to miss me too. YEAH!! Go Pro Team, we kick ass. But everyone did swell.
    See you in a week!!

  5. I'll miss you too, Samantha. Not sure how I usually get through the weekends, in fact. :)

  6. I'm starting to get really excited about the rhetorical family tree project. I had one more "board idea" to throw into the mix. When I think about influence, I picture ripples in a pond. We could do a pond motif with overlapping concentric circles and different people either at the center of the circles or in the ripples.

  7. I really enjoyed the debate. After our discussion in your office yesterday about the next debates, I started thinking more about the different debate structures you talked about. I really like the idea of having student judges, but I think that would work best as a third debate so all students would have two debates under their belts and a better understanding to the whole process (forming the argument, justification in points, judging strategies, etc.) which would be very beneficial. For the second debate, I personally would like to see (as you pointed out as another possibility) mini-groups debating. I also think the research would be much more enjoyable if the topic were something apparent in more current discourse in our society or even on campus (i.e., the weapons ban policy on campus, the smoking ban policy, the sanctions on Iran, etc.) This could also open the opportunity for other fallacies to be used strategically in the argument. It will also bring in a different perspective to real-world use of rhetorical strategies and current models of the classical argument.

    As for the formation of the debate teams, random draws are more realistic and applicable to real world scenarios, but Survivor All Star "Super Groups" are much more fun. ;)

  8. I really enjoyed the debate. It was a good experience, it forced us to think kick on our feet. It also allowed us to build trust with our classmates. We broke each section up and we depended on the other partners to accurately develop their sections. We found our strong points in this debate and our weaker areas in developing argumetns. It's harder to defend your argument verbally because you don't have as much time to perfect it.I would like to do a debate again because seeing the judges reactions was way better than reading a peers comments on a paper. It's better to hear your opponents argument at the sametime you are defending your agrument because it questions how much you really know about your issue. Giving us the opprotunity to point out fallicies was a good study session. The best part was the cross examinations because it showed that both sides firmly stood behind their issues and were ready to defend them. During cross examination is the time to be witty and quickly trick the other side into contradicting themselves. My group equally contributed the same passion to all of their sections and they presented them to the judges well. I feel the same about my opponents, but I still wasn't convinced that Socrates didn't exist. Going into the debate I was open-minded and willing to admit if they had changed my mind, but they didn't. However, if I had to defend the affirmative side I would have told the judges Socrates didn't exist simply becasue you can't trust information handed down to you by "he say, she say." It's just not credibly enough. When information is passed down it is subject to be altered, meaning Socrates may not even be the name of this great philosopher we admire.

  9. It sounds like your debate about Socrates really energized a lot of people! I also really enjoyed the interview that Dawn and I had with you. I wonder if we should videotape the next one,as well as the class having a videotape of Hugh Burns when he comes and presents, so that we can integrate it into our family tree project. I read an article on the net about the use of hypertext in composition that I thought was very interesting and has got me thinking more about having a family tree project ultimately including the use of hypertext, perhaps a diagram with the assistance of Inspiration software, the digital pictures one of our class members brought up and have a forum presenting computerized information to the class that is video typed along with everything else for a wonderful interactive family tree. I wonder if we talk to other theorist if we should consider making an audiotape of the conversations, that we also type up. Anyway, I think it will be fun and your are sending us off on many interesting directions. I bet your conference will bring even more ideas, so take good notes! I also think the pond idea that Emily has is interesting.

  10. I really hate public speaking, so I can't say I was much of a fan of the debate. But I did think it was an interesting and good learning progymnasmata. I'm glad I got the experience so that I will be better prepared for such situations in the future. Obviously, considering my extreme dislike for public speaking, I would MUCH prefer NOT to do a debate again. I did it once and know how to do it if I am ever forced to do it again, but don't feel like it is necessary to repeat the experience.
    I did enjoy the group I worked with, both as a whole and the smaller group I worked with. I thought it worked well to break it up into portions because it was much easier to find a time the few of us could collaborate, than to find a time the whole group could get together. I wish I/we'd had more guidance on how to actually point out a fallacy in an argument. I understood the meanings and the power point, but knowing how to utilize the knowledge in a real situation was a little terrifying. I didn't feel like I stated the fallacy I pointed out well, or really knew how to. (that's not a knock on my group-they were very knowledgeable and helpful, I just wished I'd seen it done effectively in the past so I could be confident in how to phrase it)

    If I had to switch sides, I would've pointed out more examples of characters in fictional stories who are extremely complex and well-created but are, in fact, fictional. I would've also made a more clear point that three people probably could agree on a fictional character, especially a 'perfect' teacher. From a personal point of view I have two sisters and I'm pretty confident the three of us could agree on the perfect someone without much trouble. I probably would've gone into somewhat of a journalists perspective too, if you don't have SUBSTANTIAL eye-witness, and if you don't have a personal interview, then you can't claim a fact.

  11. I cannot say that debating is a strong point for me. I do love to argue, especially with my father, but it does help in debates. LOL. There was not much prep time for either side, however both sides did a great amount of researched compiling. I, myself was a tad bit confused on the fallacies. I know that we went over them in class, and power points were emailed to certain people; however the emails were not distributed amongst our group. I am not placing blame but the power point would have been handy to help identify fallacies.
    I debate very interesting. Both sides contoured each other's comments very well. The Pro side had wonderful comments and the use of the scapegoat was brilliant. When our groups got together, I had the same thinking, as in my mind the first argument would be if Socrates was simply a personality for perhaps someone not wanting their name to be published as it truly was. It can be difficult to argue on a side you do not fully believe in. The Con side did present an agreeable argument in my mind. The Con side brought about some different information to think about. One thing that sticks out in my mind, is how Plato could possible remember entire conversations that went on for perhaps hours. In the Pro sides side the writing of a play made sense to me as well.
    Hearing comments and getting feedback right away does have its benefits. I have a hard to remembering to write everything in a blog and having the ability to give feedback right away on topics gone by was really fun. The overall experience was fun. I am looking forward to the next debates and uses the information I learned and expand for the next one.

  12. What did I think of the experience? I was never good at public speaking, especially when based on fictional value judgments.

    I thought two of our group members did a good job of debating both sides of the issue, questioning their own stand along with that they were opposed to. Did I pick this occurrence up right?

    I think when groups reach a certain number of people, it is impossible for all voices to be heard, and a lot was left unsaid due to restraints of time…among other things. 3 examples:

    1. I think that we should have used the Maxim stand (ARCS, pp.183) of “majority vote” on the fact that our group had more people in it. As well, pp. 159s discussion on Aristotle’s description of scientific demonstration beginning “from premises that are true or that experts accept as true” could have been used, in that while looking up information on Socrates, I found nothing having to do with his existence being under debate, but did find some stuff on Homer…I think.

    2. I wish I would have brought up the fact that the Pro side constantly referred to Socrates in discussion as though he was a person, rather than saying “the alleged Socrates” or something. However, I do agree that the Pro side did an excellent job, and deserved the win. They presented a lot of info and it appeared to me that they had done their homework on the matter.

    3. In Dr. Sauder’s blog “Notetaking and Pedagogy Statements” it says that students “will now be asked to, first, complete this form: Argument Notes anytime they are asked to read or respond to… a reading not assigned from our core textbooks.” Given this, I found that the only way to win the argument was to use the “core textbook” since no argument is necessary here. And in such, page 162 in ARCS says “Socrates is a person.” Given that, I would use the major premise that “all persons existed,” a minor premise that “Socrates is a person,” and a conclusion that “Socrates existed.”

    Would I like to do it again? Umm…no.

    If to switch sides, how would I differ? Honestly, I think too many variables are at play to make such an assumption, and odds may have left me in the same position that being on the Con group did…speechless.

    Well done, both sides.

  13. There is a major difference between arguing and debating. I was pleased to see that our class did a good job respecting and listening to each other. We debated (not argued) our sides and I think we did it very well. I say this because we were competitive with our information, but not stubborn. We didn't have a lot of time to prepare our arguments, but we still brought up good points. This debate between the two groups was a good example of the maturity and eagerness to learn in our composition class. I like how we had judges that were genuine and sincere in their responses to the arguments. It sounds like they were impressed with our debate. They had good comments and I think we can build off of there constructive criticism.

    I’ve always liked debating. The reason why is truth. I think we can find truth by listening and exploring both sides of the argument, as long as everyone is mature and respectful. The first debate had an element of unpredictability, but our class as a whole did very well in being professional and trustworthy.

    If we switched sides, I would change elaborate on stasis. I think we could amplify the fact that Socrates lives as a rhetorical topic that plays a major role in communication today. I would mix the definitive arguments with abstract thinking to hopefully convince my opposing side to believe we could reach stasis.

    In conclusion, I am looking forward to the next debate. I hope to have more time so I can gather my thoughts better. Hopefully I will find strong evidence to support the claim my group is defending. I can use the analysis of the judges to build a better argument. Their input will help me, and I appreciate all of their help. For the next debate, I am coming with stamina. This last experience has given me confidence as well as knowledge about how to have a constructive debate.

  14. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comments. You make many good points, and I particularly enoyed your list of "would haves." While I realize the inherent problems with this format, I hope that learning how to work with (and among) this many people was part of it -- I cannot tell you how many times in my life (professional and academic) projects, deadlines, and even future plans often we decided (or completed) by a group the size you worked with. Having some experience (good or bad), I hope, offers you some valuable insight should you be asked (or forced!) to work under similar constraints.

    Our topic, while admittedly "fictional," was selected exactly because it *was* fictional -- in other words, low stakes -- irrelevant to our daily lives. When using classical argumentation strategies for the first time, it's important that I (as professor) remove the "personal." I wanted to ensure that we considered the value of form and rhetorical strategy -- rather than ideological judgments (if we had, for instance, opted to debate homosexual marriage, US presence in Iraq, death penalty, or similar). Hence, Socrates.

    As for the "Socratic Problem," I assure you it's a legitimate academic debate -- though certainly not one to which I give much credence. In fact, if you look right here on my blog, I've provided you a link (that I mentioned in class, in fact) right to a site that provides basic information about the issue and other related links. You'll find it under the "USEFUL LINKS" heading -- 4th hyperlink down...

    See you on Thursday! --DR. SOUDER

  15. Dr. Souder, I really liked the idea of using stars, constellations, planets, and etc. for our family tree project. Yes, it will be visually appealing, I think, but I've considered it more since class on Tuesday, and given the nature of the project, I'm certain this is the perfect way to express our interconnectedness. The reason, my dear Dr. Souder, is astronomical (I'm an astronomy buff).

    The Big Bang, in a nutshell, was this huge explosion that created all matter in the universe. Eventually, this burning hot matter coagulated into the first stars and first elements, hydrogen and helium. They lived their lives, then went supernova. The destructive power of those supernovas created new elements, and new stars formed from the old stars' debris. When the heavy metals were formed through this process (after several generations of stars had lived and died), the universe began churning out planetary bodies made from these supernovas' stardust. Eventually, organic life formed on them (astronomers believe that when the universe creates life in one spot, i.e. Earth, it creates it everywhere).

    The point is that inside each human, and all other life as well, is stardust that can be traced clear back to the Big Bang. I think that is a wonderful metaphor for what you're trying to accomplish with the board. Just a thought.

  16. I really enjoyed the debate experience. I think that both teams did very well. Everyone was prepared and the discussion flowed extremely well and effectively. At first I thought that this project was going to be totally chaotic, but it was really amazing how things ended up coming together brilliantly. It was really fun to debate something so arguable. The scope of possible arguments for the Socratic debate is daunting and even though we only touched on some of the major philosophical problems in our debate, good points were made by both sides. I am definitely looking forward to trying to debate again later in the semester. I think it would be really interesting to see how, as large groups, creating a case about a more specific topic, maybe a current issue in the world, would differ from the process used to make the cases used for this debate, a completely philosophical topic. I imagine that will be a much more complicated task as I foresee more disagreement from within the groups, as coming to together on ideals is much more complicated than coming to an agreement on less grey philosophical issues, like the Socratic problem. Either way this debate was a challenge and a great learning experience, so thank you not only to Dr. Souder and the other judges for donating their time to help facilitate our debate, but to the other group for insightful discussion.

  17. Dr. Souder, I hope you are having a great time at the conference! I really enjoyed the debate experience. Having to think on your feet to recognize fallacies while they are spoken was a particularly great experience. Debating over such a unique topic with so little preparation time really forced the groups to collaborate and put rhetoric skills to work according to a time frame.

    I was also very pleased that, although the class was put into a competitive situation, we were able to work together while we we actually working against each other. It is easy for a debate to closer reflect a argument--where sides attack each other--rather than sticking to the rules of the classical argument. I believe for the first debate the entire class did a great job working together to prat ice our skills of rhetoric.

    I do feel that since our group was larger than our opponents working together effectively presented a whole new set of challenges. Still, in the end I feel that we use the strengths in our group to our advantage (placing the best speakers strategically and assigning certain tasks to the most qualified people).

    I would also like to thank our guest judges for their comments and time spent in our classes. Their presence made the whole experience rise to a higher level.

    Have a safe trip home!

  18. The debate experience itself, for me, is a highly rewarding experience. Working in a group to accomplish this, however, is not quite as appealing. I absolutely cannot stand to work in groups, because, as this instance shows, group members often fail to meet deadlines, or standards, that those "type-A" members like myself put into place. I was not as prepared as I should have been due to lack of support and preparation with my group. Also, there was almost no organization - two members speaking on the same subject fought over whose portion was "superior" and ended up repeating each other and overall weakening our argument. I would like to have this experience again, however, I would like to work in much smaller groups so I can keep the other members more accountable - as well as myself. There needs to be some specific organization, and possibly even a person whose only job is to help "put everything together" so it flows coherently and does not transition jerkily.

    I love to play the Devil's Advocate; therefore, switching sides would not make much impact on my performance. If I were a member of the other side, I would certainly have called our side on more fallacies; if I could see them in my own group member's orations, surely, someone else should have caught them as well. I also would have tightened up my analogies, especially those from modern culture (Sybil) and some of the rants on other "analogies" that simply confused me instead of helped me understand the argument. In the end, though, this was definitely a learning experience for all of us, and I would like to participate in something similar in the future.

  19. This was my first time debating anything and it definitely was fun; I would love to do this again. It was rewarding to see the whole groups hard work put to the test. One of my favorite parts of the whole debate was during the end cross-X section where both sides tried to reach stasis. At that point, we were all forced with the choice of trying to reach stasis or trying to win. Needless to say we did not reach stasis (and sadly we did not win either). Looking back, it probably would have been a smarter choice to try to reach some sort of stasis.

    If I had to switch sides, I probably would have conferred with my team members a bit more. It seemed like the other side had the same points argued repeatedly. I think they did a great job, but due to time constraints, it was hard to be solid on every point they made. I know that my group defiantly struggled with the limited amount of time given. It was hard to research, prepare our claims, and collaborate at the same time.

    The next debate will be better, and I know that I, personally, have learned how these things actually run. It will be a lot easier to put together an argument and present it correctly and fully next time we do this. I cannot wait!

  20. Alright, just a small observation. The majority of my group posted responses beginning with "I really enjoyed the debate" or a VERY SMALL deviation from this. It's just a little unoriginal and informal. Vary those sentences :)

  21. Ruth, didn't yours basically say that too?