Monday, January 06, 2014

Shifting the Lens

When we talk in my university writing classes about coming up with interesting ways to approach a topic that can be more useful than rehashing oversimplified arguments, I use this idea from the text: play a thesis against its antithesis to reveal new angles. Here's an example.

Thesis: We should ban guns.
Antithesis: We should not ban guns.

I ask my students what the underlying motivations are for each position. Someone suggests safety as a primary concern for people in both camps. People who want guns banned want to minimize the chances that firearms will be handled irresponsibly. People who want to own weapons for protection have a vested interest in maximizing responsible handling of firearms.

What could help minimize irresponsible gun ownership and maximize responsible gun ownership? Gun safety education, my students say. And, boom, there's a new angle on the topic.

We dig a little deeper. Why would anyone object to gun safety education? It could be too much of an infringement on the rights of gun owners if it's required. If it's offered in schools, it could entice kids into wanting to handle weapons.

Hmm, I think. Those sound a lot like the objections people have when it comes to sex education and counseling women who are dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Except the camps are typically reversed.

A thesis juxtaposing gun safety education and sex education, shifting the lens through which we view entrenched positions just enough to shed new light? Now that could make an essay worth reading.

1 comment:

misssrobin said...

Anytime we challenge entrenched positions I think we're doing a good thing. What a fun teacher you must be.