Sunday, November 20, 2011

Life's Little Elections

In explaining how to write an argument, I tell my students about the Toulmin model of argumentation. I talk about the 3 most common claims: claims of fact, claims of value, and claims of policy. Given the fact that my students aren't supposed to use outside sources, I often steer them away from claims of fact. I also steer them away from claims of value. I tell them I don't want them trodding down the same path as those who are trying to argue evolution versus creationism or gun control or abortion or stem cell research or wolves...all those have been argued to death.

Additionally, I try to explain that it hardly ever works to try to argue a matter of personal taste. For instance, there will always be the die-hard Pepsi fans and Coke fans. There will always be those who wear Nike as opposed to Reebok or New Balance, and you won't convince them otherwise. There are truck fanatics out there who wear their preference. Surely you've seen the Calvin and Hobbes stickers in which Calvin is pissing upon some brand name he doesn't like.

The point is, it's hard to convince someone to dislike something they like. And vice versa.

So having laid this foundation in which I try to encourage my students to deal mainly in claims of policy, it was a bit disappointing to have a student turn in preparatory work for his essay, an essay arguing that Spring is the best of the seasons.


It's not that I disagree, and because he is a farm kid whose argument stems from an agricultural standpoint, I'm even more biased and preferential. Nonetheless, I had to ask the student to start over. I had to ask him to offer up another, less subjective argument.

I wonder what kind of a world it would be if we philosophized on the level of Montaigne. What if we were in the habit of starting essays on whatever happened to strike us at a particular moment?

That student had written a meditation on Spring. And despite the fact that I couldn't allow him to do so as a means of demonstrating that he'd learned anything about classical argumentation, I think everyone should at least internally take stock of their preferences, their values, their rights and wrongs, their vote in life's little elections.

Today was the sort of day where I might have cast my vote for winter. Cold clearly won. It kept me in bed until 11 a.m. It held me hostage in the kitchen most of the day where it became my goal to cook things that would warm the insides of those I care about. It was the sort of day where the cat laid on top of technology, which whirred beneath him and kept him warm. It included a neighborhood walk wherein I saw a gentleman performing all manner of ninja kick in order to rid the undercarriage of his car from icicles. It was a walk in which I shuffled along, alternately unsure of my footing on top of ice or plunged deep into a snowy park. I marveled at the ghost of activity--the footprints of man and dog and bird once here but now gone. I enjoyed the quickening of my heart, the chill not quite fended off by coat and gloves. And I was all in favor of my rosy cheeks and the opportunity some don't have--to come inside out of that cold.

Yes, winter. I stand whole-heartedly behind it. Today, anyway.


  1. The beauty of this post is to illustrate that there is value of every situation. In your argument for Winter you demonstrate the beauty of its inconvenience and perhaps how we can enjoy and endure even the worst that Mother Nature throws at us because we know that it will eventually get better.

  2. I love this post, but I cast my vote for fall.