Saturday, October 07, 2006

Arguments of Definition

Right now while my students are writing their arguments of definition, my cousin sent me this Garrison Keilor article about the definition of "enemy combattant." This article does a great job of showing both the "so what" factor (consequences) and "who cares." In starting students on this assignment - which seems new and unusual to them (I mean, why not just look in the dictionary or Wikipedia?) - I used the example of the recent Senate argument over "torture" versus "interrogation by professionals" (I will hunt for a link). I said, maybe the definition of torture depends on which end of the stick you are on.


Blogger Michael Faris said...

Aren't definitions and categories the way we make our world? What does it mean for students to be students? Are they passive recipients of knowledge, or active creators of knowledge? Is the U.S. engaged in torture or interrogation? Are chemical weapons WMDs? A whole war depended on that. What is freedom of speech? What does it mean to be a citizen? An active participant and creator of knowledge and discourse, or a passive consumer of mass culture commodities?

And so forth. I think when I was in high school, I would have leaned towards the so what, or viewed it as some "game" where I had to precise so that the teacher couldn't say, "Well, what you described is a pencil, but it's also a ____." High school definition essays tend to be about precision, taking away the socio-cultural dimension of "How we create the world and ourselves."

Now, I think it's almost imperative that there is a small definition essay in every type of essay.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, interesting. That's an important distinction, isn't it: definition for precision, for practice in gaining quantifiable knowledge and definition for creating meaning, and for, as you say, creating ourselves and our world.

10:12 AM  

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