For What It’s Worth . . .
I’ve given you a tough assignment, I know, to write a Definition/Categorical argument while you’re still trying to figure out what’s important about your chosen topic. But the truth is we have to get started writing your 3000-word argument now that we’re at the halfway point of the semester. You need April and what’s left of March to craft 3 short arguments and revise them before putting it all together.
So, maybe it would help if I suggest what might qualify as a good angle for your individual Proposals. Feel no obligation to follow these suggestions; I offer them for whatever they’re worth.
As far as I understand, Striped Sweater believes high schools have a role to play in recognizing and intervening to address mental illness in their students. So far xhe has not said so explicitly, but the proposal tends that way, with talk of depression and trauma, hints of suicidal tendencies and the responsibilities (and limitations) of school nurses. SS may be considering an essay that defines mental health, or depression, or trauma, but that would be a mistake. Those choices are WAY too broad, and they delay addressing anything consequential or arguable. The better way to narrow the topic and advance an argument would be to concentrate on two specific aspects of this broad topic. How accurate are the signs of imminent suicide? What is the school’s responsibility to intervene? Is it better to over-react to what turn out to be false signals, or to minimize warnings of actual suicidal intent? The title that keeps recurring to me is “Can High School Save Your Life?”
Blooming Mystery’s TOPIC is the question of whether 25 might be the optimal legal drinking age. So far the hypothesis seems to be that an older minimum drinking age will provide more of an educational advantage than anything else. Xhes evidence, however, is medical not educational. All the sources demonstrate either physical damage to the still-developing brains of youthful drinkers or the late-age consequences of a life-long habit of alcohol consumption. What needs to be defined? To my way of thinking, it would be the age of reason, or the concept of informed consent. What Mystery proposes is that we make something illegal for a 23-year-old because it would harm the 23-year-old in a way that it would not harm a 25-year-old. That’s a hard sell for a society that will permit 18-year-olds to enlist in the infantry and walk into an active war zone. Mystery proposes that because the 23-year-old is not mature enough to weigh the costs and benefits of drinking and make a rational decision, society needs to outlaw the dangerous behavior. Xhe will need to argue that the young adult does not have the right to make that decision.
OMG doesn’t have a Hypothesis. Xhes proposal, though, is to study the mental health challenge presented by the demands of full-time education PLUS full- or part-time employment. There’s a slant to this research that indicates either resentment toward students who can afford college without working or a sympathy for those who can’t . . . probably both. Both are reasonable, but they don’t make a hypothesis. Certainly the demands of study PLUS work are great, greater than those of study alone for those who don’t need to work. Maybe OMG’s hypothesis is that students who have to work will be more likely to suffer stress, overwork, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. I don’t think that needs to be proven. One radical solution to finding a thesis here would be to examine the “definition” of a “four-year degree.” On a scholarship, or with financial backing, the stone-carved expectation of a “Freshman year,” followed by a “Sophomore year,” etc. may be keeping us from seeing the obvious: that the schedule is arbitrary and unjust. Why should someone who has to work to afford school be expected to finish on the same schedule as someone who doesn’t? Simply re-defining the degree as something that is accomplished in 120 credits instead of 4 years would reduce the stigma, the stress, the trauma of sticking to an unrealistic schedule.
DanceStar believes that “different types of music can affect your moods.” Clearly, this is not an arguable hypothesis and needs to be radically narrowed before xhe can say anything meaningful on the broad topic. Xhe does suggest that quantifiable evidence can be found in “the ways the brain reacts to music,” even ways that music “helps brain development,” but again, each of these topics is SO BROAD that neither offers a chance for meaningful argument in just 3000 words. So, what can be done? As always, we read until we find a surprising source. I found one in less than a minute titled “Music Alters Visual Perception.” (How weird is this?: “Jolij and Meurs had their test subjects perform a task in which they had to identify happy and sad smileys while listening to happy or sad music. Music turned out to have a great influence on what the subjects saw: smileys that matched the music were identified much more accurately. And even when no smiley at all was shown, the subjects often thought they recognized a happy smiley when listening to happy music and a sad one when listening to sad music.”) My thinking here is that if science can demonstrate that how we SEE the world depends on what we’re listening to, then more abstract claims we want to make about “how music affects our mood” will be much easier to accept. This is exactly the sort of hypothesis that needs quantifiable evidence, so finding something we can prove is the best first step. After that, we can speculate about how much the finding can be expanded to support less provable claims.
Shaq is investigating the relative nutritional quality and academic benefits of school lunches compared to lunches brought from home on the theory that school lunches have gotten more nutritious and therefore beneficial while home-brought lunches are less regulated, therefore more whimsical, therefore less demonstrably beneficial, therefore potentially harmful or at least not helpful. So, what is there to define? “School lunch” is an obvious choice. What’s it the legally-mandated lunch? How were the ingredients, or the categories, or the nutritional levels established? That’s reasonable. More intriguing to me is the question, “What’s an academically-beneficial lunch?” Maybe the question seems ridiculous, but it’s certainly possible that what does the brain best for the few hours between lunch and the closing bell is not the same as what would benefit the student for his dinner. Schools feed students only one meal out of three. They’re not responsible for overall lifetime nutrition, only what most benefits a student for xhes afternoon classes.
Media coverage of school shootings creates copycat shootings, says Tenere. Or something less specific than that. Tenere thinks we’ve created a celebrity culture that glorifies shooters and that, if media coverage of shooter identities were banned, fewer youth would use shootings as a way to achieve notoriety. It’s a hypothesis worth investigating.
J is testing the hypothesis that liberal arts graduates with the soft skills of communication, teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, and leadership, are more employable at the entry level than STEM degree graduates. Clearly there is no value in spending 1000 words to define the liberal arts or to spell out the details of a STEM degree. The term that needs to be examined here is employability. It may seem truly obvious, but . . . . Employers would be very lucky to find a new hire who had both hard-STEM technical skills and soft communication skills. That person could do the entry-level work the job requires and collaborate with others, build teamwork, rise to a supervisory or management level. But if two candidates presented for a laboratory technician job, one with only the hard skills a lab tech needs and one with only the soft skills that would better suit a manager or team leader, who would get the job? Could a liberal arts graduate without technical skills ever manage a cadre of lab techs? I don’t know, but the question will be nagging me as I read J’s paper, so it’s one J should address as soon as possible.
Rose is investigating the theory that protecting children from the pains of life limits their ability to handle adversity in adulthood. I’m going to suggest a novel approach to get Rose started. Instead of using sources to describe what is meant by a “protected or sheltered childhood,” or what psychologists mean by “handling adversity,” Rose might want to define by analogy. For decades, doctors have been giving the same advice about when to introduce “real food” to infants and how long to avoid any exposure to peanuts and parents, terrified that their infant might die from an unknown peanut allergy have been shielding them the way they would use a crucifix to keep away a vampire. It turns out many of them have probably helped their kids develop a life-threatening peanut allergy by doing so. The same way your professor used a careful description of the eradication of smallpox to define eradicability, Rose could use creating a peanut allergy as a way to define ruining your child by limiting their exposure to stress.
GossipGirl will be “conducting research on the fetal origins hypothesis that a baby starts to learn in the mother’s womb.” I’m pleased that xhe claims, “I have no prior opinions on this subject matter nor have I ever thought of this before this counterintuitive research assignment.” That’s the attitude we should all have when we begin our research. What to define? It seems to me GG has identified the right term for Defining: “Babies pick up on things such as recognizing the sound of their mother’s voice, her food preference while pregnant, and all the traumatic stress she has while they are in the womb. Some people may not consider this learning though and find it hard to prove.” So, GG, describing what will and what will not qualify as evidence of learning for the purposes of your argument will be the job of your Definition/Categorical essay. My body naturally recoils from excessive heat. That’s a reflex that wouldn’t qualify as learning, right? I pull my hand away from the hot stove burner by reflex. No learning needed. Next time, though, I recognize the flame or the red coil or the stove itself as the AGENT of burning, and I avoid it before I get burned. That’s learning, right? Does the fetus learn, or does it develop reflexes?
I see Sixers has posted a draft Definition argument, so I’ll move on for now to Walmaarts. But I’ll return here to comment on what Sixers has done.
Walmaarts will explore the origin story, and the possible propaganda angles, of the coronavirus. That should be plenty for 3000 words. Walmaarts suggests also explaining “how trade and the market could plummet” and “the cancellation of public gatherings” that will result from the global reaction to the threat,” but that’s WAY TOO MUCH subject matter for one essay. My strong recommendation is that Walmaarts concentrate very narrowly on one angle of this breaking story that DOESN’T depend on the flood of details coming out of the media every day. For example, big health threats offer government a chance to consolidate their power over their citizens. China has used the virus to impose massive new surveillance protocols on the movements of its people. The Italian government yesterday warned Italians that “they will have to develop new ways to live their lives,” and this morning placed entire regions into quarantines of varying strictness. If we have total faith in our government, we react with equanimity: “Yes, the greater public health will be served by my staying isolated in my home.” But if we’re already suspicious of the power governments wield, we react differently: “Hey, where’s the evidence that this is more dangerous than the flu? Is this just an experiment to see how willingly we’ll all surrender our freedom to authority?” History has plenty of examples of governments using health threats to increase their power.
Nayr proposes to investigate the idea that comic books and graphic novels are the future and key to the continuation and preservation of literature. Using the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” as evidence, Nayr claims that words are no longer needed to describe how someone looks since a picture can replace a page and a half of facial descriptions, to which I would reply that when I say, in six words, “the flesh melted off her face,” I’ve replaced dozens of pictures or a minute or so of video for a MUCH SMALLER investment. My point is that Nayr doesn’t have to argue that graphic novels will replace written literature. Both can survive, have already survived hundreds of years of illustration. Movies, novels, and graphic books, all have their particular strengths. What I’d like to see Nayr define are the “unique characteristics” of the graphic novel. The movie can show me the entire process of the flesh melting but not make me FEEL it. The graphic novel can show me the stages of that transformation and make me imagine the panels in between. Literature can make me visualize the entire image without describing a single detail. Closely describing the aspects of imagination that make the graphic novel an indispensable player in the world of fiction would be a “novel” contribution to the conversation.
Harp took advantage of our conference to revise xhes hypothesis from the Proposal+5 version. It now reads: “Adding a hard salary cap to MLB would increase fan attendance and tv ratings,” a move that common knowledge says would anger fans by limiting how insanely their favorite team’s owners could overspend to snare the latest superstar. Harp counters that the move would overall create a more competitive league like the NFL, which has achieved a level of parity that keeps fans interested. The obvious choice for a Definition candidate would be “the hard cap,” but I think we can do better than that. A paragraph will suffice to outline the money details. More important is the relationship between Parity/Fan Involvement/Team Dynamics. Is a Hard Cap better suited to Baseball, Football, Basketball, or Hockey? Does the Hard Cap always favor the smaller-market teams by limiting the amount richer teams can spend? Or (looking forward to the Causal Argument) does it inadvertently favor the wealthy big-market teams by preventing them from entering into toxic long-term contracts that go sour and bankrupt them for a decade? Any close examination of a single aspect of the Hard Cap would make a better Definition Argument than a flavorless and wordy description of the financial terms.
A1175 began with the Hypothesis that “NBA players should get a college degree either before entering the league, during, or after.” Following our conference, xhe revised that Hypothesis to: “NBA players should get a college degree in general whether it’s before, during or after the NBA instead of getting a degree before the NBA.” I know; I have a hard time seeing the difference too. That said, finding a term in that Hypothesis that requires definition might seem difficult. But let’s try. How about should? Can that be argued? We might all agree that every high school student should take a course called Personal Finance to prepare for a lifetime of wise money management. And a school district could probably make passing such a course a requirement for graduation. But what can a professional sports league mandate and what should a professional sports league mandate is a VERY valuable Categorical question to argue. Yes, it would be cool if every NBA player was also a college graduate. But can a league mandate it? And should a league mandate it? (And for comparison’s sake, can Microsoft mandate that its new hires have a technical college degree? And does Microsoft have such a mandate? And should Microsoft have such a mandate? And is that mandate ever broken to accommodate, for example, the hiring of a genius high school dropout? And could the NBA similarly break its own rules?)
Dupreeh asked me via text: “Should I define nuclear energy or clean energy?” My immediate reaction was “probably neither, but certainly not nuclear energy.” I hope xhe hasn’t already chosen to define nuclear energy while waiting for my reply. Here’s why I would discourage it: it’s hard to argue. Dupree wants to tackle the essential question of how much carbon is generated by various fuels. That’s a technical question that also seems hard to argue, but that is in fact full of interpretations that can be challenged. The gas I burn in my car emits lots of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and miscellaneous hydrocarbons. Fueling my car with electricity emits zero carbon. But that doesn’t mean my car is carbon neutral. The electricity wasn’t carbon-free. If it was generated by burning coal, I’m essentially powering my car with coal, the notoriously most carbon-intensive polluter. So if, as xhe intends, Dupreeh wants to consider what blend of renewables like wind, water, geothermal, and solar combined with nuclear is the best way to achieve a carbon-reduced or carbon-neutral power source, xhe’ll have to examine the hidden carbon costs of those different “fuels.” And that would be closer to requiring a definition of “clean energy,” but only insofar as we use just carbon to calculate cleanliness.