Daring Dissent Student Complain Writing Tip


Daring Dissent

Many students complain to me that their other teachers indeed are such bigots that they reward students who reflect their views and banish those who are different to some academic gulag. To get ahead, say these ass-kissing upstarts, you need to learn to get along. On my campus, fraternity brothers openly snicker over the well-known and successful scenario for acing any course taught by a feminist. All they have to do, they tell me, is to start off pretending to be macho and sexist and then, over the semester, gradually come around to her point of view. The teacher thus rewards them not for their writing but for their "intellectual development" and "heightened maturity." Other students say that to argue a conservative point in a liberal's class, or a liberal point in a conservative's class, is sure death. Although I admit that both sides of the political battlefield have some idiotic ideologues who do not know or care about the difference between propaganda and pedagogy, I suspect that in many of these reported cases, the problem is one not of conforming to the hidden or not-so-hidden agenda of the teacher but of failing to acknowledge it. All teachers have agendas; make no mistake about that. But most teachers are happy simply to have their viewpoints acknowledged, not digested and regurgitated.

Dissent from the class agenda is probably a healthy response and deserves respect, since it is always harder to fight the current than to go with the flow. But such dissent carries with it the additional responsibility of bowing toward your opponent before the battle starts. The tactic, which is simple but effective, involves giving the party line a nod in a brief paragraph near the opening of the paper.

It is certainly true that Marx predicted the inevitable downfall of capitalism, and the United States as a capitalist country does ex-hibit many of the contradictions Marx discerned in capitalism. Indeed, some of these contradictions can be found in a close reading of our current text, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes . Nevertheless, other forces more than compensate for the failings of capitalism and have promoted development of the many beneficial aspects of American culture.

Then you can press on with whatever points you originally wanted to make. The real danger with the dissenting paper, and it is one I have run into numerous times, is the failure to provide any evidence that you have paid any attention to any of the class lectures or read any of the texts. That, after all, is a major reason for writing these papers. The grader needs to have some evidence not only that you have opinions of your own but also that you have read and thought about the assigned work. A dissenting argument that never even mentions the class agenda risks being read as an evasion rather than a response. The connection between your argument and the assignment may be obvious to you, but you have the responsibility to make it obvious to the grader. Spell out clearly but respectfully the points of contact and conflict.

Thank you.

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