Academia Teaching

On Arguments (Part 4)

An interesting exchange with a student during office hours. The student brought a draft of a to-be-submitted essay for me to read. After reading the essay, I turned to her and asked, “what do you think about it? Has it succeeded in what it sets out to do?”

The student said, “No, I don’t think it is successful. But I enjoyed writing it.”

Recall the A-not-B task, something at which children below a certain age fail. Some have argued that the children’s failure is not because of cognitive inability, but because of an inability to inhibit an action. An overly specific (and not flexible) action has become associated with completing the task, despite the recognition that the action is inappropriate.

Reading and writing partly aim at completing specific goals, like finishing a course assignment. But they also aims at educating our senses. This includes educating our sense of enjoyment. It is our aim to cultivate the capacity to enjoy writing good essays; it is our aim to reach a place where fulfilling a writing goal, including the promises we make at the outset of an essay, is viscerally satisfying.

Being guided by this insight means not fully trusting our sense of comfort and the easy “enjoyment” that comes with finishing early drafts. It means finding new guiding principles, new standards of form. It means finding new writing goals. Goals that we take seriously. It means not being lazy. Rather than hoping the teacher wouldn’t find the weaknesses that we (the students) ourselves can detect, why not go back and keep working on the essay?

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