Joe Adamson’s “Argument and Transformation” post reminds me of a recent experience in my grade 12 class. A homophobic student bragged how he would spend his Saturday nights driving in a car (crammed with six other male homophobes), harassing people he thought were gay. My discussions with him failed. However, during my lessons on logic, I had him argue why gays had no right to exist…an assignment he relished. Then after finishing his argument, I had him write the counter argument. While he was still homophobic, he did at least stop physically harassing people because he could not definitively defend his sexist views.
On the one hand, school is for Frye derived for the Greek word for leisure, or “schole,” a higher form of civilized development, a detachment from the “real” world. But on the other hand, school is engagement, a means of fighting the forces of social conditioning, advertising, politics, and bigotry by way of words with power. Frye’s notion that every argument has a counter-argument, and that the best we can do is become aware of our social conditioning, helped moderate the views of one otherwise intansigent student.
Teaching is militant and, if we are lucky, our students might become through the power of words — and perhaps in the only way possible — born again.