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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Every Coin Has Two Sides*

(*or, Every Chinese Student's Favorite Maxim)

Just now, I found myself unable to answer a student who asked me whether it's OK to argue both sides of an issue in an essay. I suddenly felt conflicted, even paralyzed, first thinking:

Of course you can't do that. If every essay argued two different sides of an issue, then every thesis statement would be "moderation is good."

(Or would it be "moderation has both good and bad aspects?")

But wait, is this cultural imperialism? You know, "you must take a stand, fight for your individual opinion, show why you are right like a good American..."

Then I started going through all the contrastive (now called intercultural!) rhetoric stuff: do I believe "Chinese logic is circular" -- thanks a lot, Kaplan 1966 --or not? And, do I have to teach American writing conventions, or do I leave room for them to write "Chinese-style" essays in English? And how can I tell the difference between Chinese rhetoric and poor "Western" rhetoric?

And then I got even more concerned: Am I even teaching them about how to come up with thesis statements at all? So far we've talked a lot about "topics," and I've told them that their thesis needs to be supported by detailed, specific examples, but how much time have I put in to making sure they know how to craft worthwhile thesis statements? Is every thesis statement simply going to be "we should do X" or "X is bad?"

Which led to the other ultimate concern which plagues me every time I speak with the other sophomore English writing teacher, who focuses more on mechanics in his classes: Have I gone too far altogether by focusing on ideas and arguments instead of sentence structure, mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, diction?

I have a long way to go if I ever want to get as far as this guy...(ha ha!)

1 comment:

Gaia said...

Thank you for your article. I think I will be able to read the article during my winter break. Thank you again!