There are very few everyday occurrences that give me as much pleasure as proving someone else wrong. Whether the issue of debate is one of morality, logic, politics, the results of a particular event, nothing pleases me more than to prove my intellectual superiority over another. One could easily realize as much in the somewhat combative nature my writing takes on during assignments. My education before college continuously conditioned me to accept that to successfully prove the superiority of an argument one had to logically prove the inferiority of another. Essentially that if I wanted to be successful in an agreement I had to be right and prove another person’s ideas to be wrong. During these past fourteen weeks, our class discussed the subject and technique of making an effective argument. Through the comparison of works by Gerald Graff and D. Tannen we explored new ideas effective debates and what they should produce. I must say that compared to the various other topics discussed this year that exploration has yielded the most change in my writing than any other.
The work of both Graff and Tannen focuses on the issue of the technique of debate. Graff supports debate as an agreement, an attempt to prove the validity of one position over another. “My own students’ writing seems to improve dramatically when I encourage them to stake out a position in opposition….” Graff explains that all influential academic writing became so because it had something to contest, some other point to win over. That this idea gave his students a clearer purpose in their writing.
I always appreciated having a clear goal in my paper because of the ease it gave me in writing them. I knew the point I was aiming for and the only decision I then had to make was how best to argue that certain point. I grew to be a more combative writer which took away much of the eloquence I would have liked in my work. A habit I developed in writing was during an essay I would include some personal thought on the subject in parentheses. These comments would usually be sarcastic or an attempt to bring in some humor on a serious subject. I remember early on in the semester Professor Boyd explaining that this type of writing alienates many readers, some of whom without the comment I might have been able to convince. After I read Graft and Tannen I realized that combativeness takes away from an argument because it causes people to close their minds against what they are reading. In an argument people stop listening to each other and focus only on making their point. Such is the same for writing.
D. Tannen hopes to inspire academics not to simply argue right and wrong, correct v. incorrect, essentially to do away with the Adversary method. Tannen writes about how this method does not lead to the persuasion of an opponent but simply causes them to rethink their strategy of how to prove their theory to be correct. Thus in the end the debate produces next to nothing except a winner and a loser. She wishes to replace this technique with one more resembling the Socratic Method. She advises that the objective of debate is not to prove someone wrong but to convince them of a new way of thought that is more effective. Tannen finds that if an argument exposes new forms of thought then it has more benefit to the advancement of knowledge in a certain field.
Our discussions in class lead to the conclusion that influential academic work should not necessarily prove a theory or argument invalid but instead improve them by showing new ways of thinking and in the end to attempt to produce new knowledge. As a class we were challenged to adopt this view of debate into our own work from that point on; that our work should advance our topics of choice by embracing what others have said and expanding upon them with our own. Having explained the way I was conditioned to think about arguments and debate one should easily be able to understand how drastic of a change in thought this would require. At first I didn’t accept this notion of furthering knowledge. I felt that being right in a debate was the ultimate goal. Shortly after these series of class discussions I found myself in a debate with a friend who attends Georgetown University in D.C. I had said that the purpose of technology was to make life easier and he fired back at me with quotations from Rousseau, Locke , and many other famous philosophers who wrote rather briefly on the subject of scientific advancement (except Rousseau of course). While listening not only did I realize that I was utterly unconvinced but that not a single idea that my friend cited against me was in fact his. His argument brought nothing new to the table. It was in the following hours that I realized the truth in Tannen and that our class had come upon. I wanted my writing to be recognized as excellent academically. In order to fulfill that desire my writing would have to do more than just support a point already made by someone else. I would have to use arguments and ideas from great men in the recent and distant past to further my own. Graff was right in saying that all influential work needed something to be in conflict with, but it also needs to bring new ideas and information to the reader. Good work needs to not only convince people but advance their way of thought. Only through meeting these requirements would my work be credited with any importance.
Since that realization, which has developed from that night till this very moment, I have cut out the sarcasm usually found in my earlier papers. I have attempted to focus not on reiterating the work of others but trying to see how their ideas and methods support mine. In essence I can say that my writing style has begun to mature from the combative nature of a teenager to soon resemble the far more sophisticated and eloquent styles of academic work.