Handout 1

Course Description
Speaking, Arguing, and Writing

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A good discussion takes work and awareness of some basic rules.

      1) Engaging in academic controversy is about finding the best explanation by subjecting all claims to rigorous critical analysis. It means coming to an understanding of the reasons for difference as well as finding shared assumptions. It also means finding the weak points in arguments. That is critical for advancing our understanding of the issues. If you disagree with a statement, you have an obligation to state your disagreement. Remember, you always critique arguments, you never critique the person presenting the argument.  Criticism has to be constructive, not destructive. You want to further our understanding of the issue, you donít want to score points.

     2) You cannot participate in a discussion effectively unless you develop the habit of listening carefully. Your fellow students have insightful things to say, and your arguments should be responsive to theirs. Although we aspire to speak concisely, we often donít. If you are not sure what somebody else meant, ask for clarification.

     3) While we want to construct our arguments carefully, we have normally only a rough idea of the argument in mind and then develop it as we speak. Do not wait until you have figured out the perfect argument in your mind! If you have an idea, articulate it and develop the argument as you go. That doesnít legitimate any BS (which is normally recognized rather easily), but it does legitimate a process of learning to articulate an argument as you go. Again, practice will improve your performance. By the end of the semester youíll be much better than at the beginning.

     4) Along similar lines, do not be afraid to speak up in the group. We all have different degrees of anxiety about speaking up in a group. There is no better way of speaking in a group than doing it. The more you do it, the lower your anxiety level. Donít be intimidated, and by the same token, donít intimidate.

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