Author Bio

Multimodal Mondays – Fight Club and Social Media: Teaching Students the Importance of Conceding

posted: 10.13.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Eric Stephens is a graduate instructor at Utah State University. His research interests lie where popular culture, religion, pedagogy, and writing center theory and practice intersect. He has presented his work at several university symposiums and plans to present his most recent research at the International Writing Centers Association conference. You can reach Eric via his website and follow him on Twitter @eric_james86.

When I taught argumentation, the importance of conceding evaded my students. After some reflection, I realized I needed a new plan. As a writing instructor, I’ve tried to show my students how the various principles of writing and argumentation permeate their lives even when they don’t see it, so I wanted to do the same with conceding and argumentation. I brought my love of movies and social media into the classroom to help students understand why “losing” can be so effective.

Objective
To show students the value of conceding and critical thinking in their own writing and help them to see those principles in their day-to-day interactions on social media.

 The Assignment

 Part One: Introducing Losing
Whether in class or for homework, have each student watch these two TED Talk videos about argumentation:

Then lead the students in a discussion about the videos using these questions as guidelines:

  • How does Daniel Cohen define arguments?
  • Why do people argue in the academic sense?
  • Why does “losing” an argument really mean you “win” the argument?
  • Why are good arguers better at “losing” arguments?
  • Why do most of us avoid being wrong?
  • Why is the need to be right a problem for our culture?
  • According to Kathryn Schulz, what are the three assumptions we make when we think other people are wrong?
  • How do we avoid making those assumptions?

Part Two: Fight Club
After discussing the videos and the importance of being wrong during an argument, provide some context for the following scene from Fight Club:

In the preceding scene, the main character and founder of Fight Club, Tyler Durden, started a fight with an owner of a bar and intentionally lost it. After losing the fight, the owner of the bar allowed the club to continue meeting in his basement. Then, Tyler Durden gave each member of Fight Club their first homework assignment—to start a fight and lose it.

Part Three: Social Media
Now, introduce the writing portion of the assignment to your students. I recommend giving this assignment in two parts: once earlier in the week and one later in the week to allow time for completion.

Either in class or for homework, have each student find a comment thread from a blog or online article in which the author or commenter concedes a point. (You should guide your students to find something current and relevant to them.) Then each student should analyze the concession based on the following (or similar) questions:

  • What is the main argument of the article?
  • What point did the author or commenter concede?
  • Did the author or commenter transition into the concession? If so, how?
  • How did the author respond to the concession?
  • Did the concession strengthen or weaken the author’s argument? Why?

In order to avoid any feelings or tones of trolling, instruct each student not to respond to the thread but merely observe it. Each student should come to class with the discussion thread copy and pasted into a word document for class discussion.

Part Four: Class Discussion
With each student prepared with his or her discussion thread, have them divide into groups to explain and discuss their overall experience.

Then, lead the class in a discussion using the following questions as guidelines:

  • How does Daniel H. Cohen’s talk about arguing apply to your discussion threads?
  • How does Kathryn Schulz’s talk about the importance of being wrong apply to your discussion threads?
  • What can Tyler Durden teach us about writing? Is it important to “lose”?
  • How can we transfer the principle of conceding to your own writing?
  • Why would it be important to concede to others’ arguments in your own writing?

Conclusion
In my experience, several of my students dreaded the prospect of this assignment when explained. I believe it is a combination of 1) blending their academic lives with their social lives, and 2) they view concessions as weakness or defeat instead of argumentative strategies. However, once we came back to class to discuss their results, their response and attitudes surprised me. For the most part, they really enjoyed engaging in social media in a deeper way than they usually do. They also came away from the experience with practical knowledge of why conceding improves the quality of their own thinking and writing with the know-how in order to apply it.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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