Your Argument is Weak

“Your argument must have a strong point!” I’m always repeating.

My students look at me as though they’re listening; I am sure they get it, then I realize I was wrong when I read their papers.

I’ve noticed a recent trend in some of my classes, weak arguments– hesitancy in the writer’s tone/voice, basically a lack of security, a wobbly state.  The thesis conveys too much humility (if you can imagine), too little specificity. Are they playing it safe?  Did they not do enough research?

The papers inevitably land on my desk delicately like fluff pieces full of others’ expertise and vacancies in their own analytical responses and argumentative points.  Where does this weakness in tone come from?  Lately, I’ve been subjecting them to more controversial open topics hoping to stir up their own viewpoints and strengths.  In class, we host fabulous complex debates, displacing various points of views.  Then on the page, they fall flat.

Most recently, part of my job has become instilling a sense of writing confidence, showing them that each one of their voices, no matter what, will exude unique angles and presentations, that they can, in fact, be the designer, the “boss” of their own papers.  Innately and unscientifically, I tend to think that this hesitancy may have sprouted well before college, perhaps even elementary school.  Was there too much silencing or emphasis on obedience before they came to my Lit class?

Another guess that comes to mind is that the divide between academic writing and leisure writing/reading has become too sharp and large.  If the students are so distant from the academic voice, they may run the risk of being intimidated by it.  However, these students are at the college level; they must have been exposed to some academic writing at some point.  This trouble with developing a strong argument writing voice, could also come from their faulty attempts to sound sophisticated, rather than to elicit clarity and specificity.

Currently, I continue to drill the words, “strong point” into their heads, I also quickly point out when they make a strong point during our in class discussions.  It’s translating their interesting points into the writing form that is the challenge, and our classroom is just the right place to practice.

The answer to why my students’ arguments are trending toward weakness still hangs in the air like a mystery.  Any clues?

“Structural Economic Violence”

I teach with hunger. Literally.

AAUP reports that part-timers now make up 50 percent of total faculty. As adjuncts proliferate, the number of tenured jobs falls. Why pay full salaries when you can get workers on the cheap?

Hordes of adjuncts slog like migrant workers from campus to campus. Teaching four fall and four spring courses at $2,700 each generates an annual salary of $21,600, below the national poverty line for a family of four. In a classroom across the hall, a tenured professor could make $100,000 for teaching half as many courses to half as many students. The tenured commonly speak of their teaching “loads,” as if they were hauling burlap sacks of weighty tomes up to the heights of Mount Academia.

To continue reading Colman McCarthy’s blunt illustration of my life, his article, “Adjuncts fight for crumbs on campus,” published by the Washington Post, please click here college’s dirty little secret.

I read this article at work when a colleague brought in a print copy of the Post. A group of us “migrant workers” passed it around on the DL like kids passing a note around the classroom. We felt validated, noticed, appreciated, all the while thinking, God forbid any of our bosses catch us reading this! like servants from the Medieval ages.

Even in the unifying moment that Coleman’s article generously gave us, we needed to be “hush, hush” about not only liking the article, but also even having it on campus. As McCarthy points out, we are barely surviving; we are desperate for income; we can’t afford to piss anyone off, yet we are also educators, teaching our students to think critically and to observe, to ask questions. As their instructors, however, we suppress our own.

I don’t have health insurance coverage. I don’t have my own parking space though I drive to and from different campuses. I don’t have an office (merely what I like to call “my mobile locker” rolling briefcase). And even publishing this post makes me nervous.

I do have great students. I do love teaching. I do have big dreams, but after reading Coleman’s piece, I’ve started to wonder if that’s all they are.