When win-argument pedagogy is a loss for the composition classroom


  • Wendy Lee Grosskopf


tagmemics, composition, win‑rhetoric, dissoi logoi, pedagogy, argumentation


Despite the effort educators put into developing in students the critical writing and thinking skills needed to compose effective arguments, undergraduate college students are often accused of churning out essays lacking in creative and critical thought, arguments too obviously formulated and with sides too sharply drawn. Theories abound as to why these deficiencies are rampant. Some blame students’ immature cognitive and emotional development for these lacks. Others put the blame of lackadaisical output on the assigning of shopworn writing subjects, assigned topics such as on American laws and attitudes about capital punishment and abortion. Although these factors might contribute to faulty written output in some cases, the prevailing hindrance is our very pedagogy, a system in which students are rewarded for composing the very type of argument we wish to avoid — the eristic, in which the goal is not truth seeking, but successfully disputing another’s argument. Certainly the eristic argument is the intended solution in cases when a clear-cut outcome is needed, such as in legal battles and political campaigns when there can only be one winner. However, teaching mainly or exclusively the eristic, as is done in most composition classrooms today, halts the advancement of these higher-order inquiry skills we try developing in our students.