Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Value of Arguement

Initially I thought of this post as extolling the value of social interaction to healing of the brain. I still suspect there is a connection, but reviewed what I had written, the post seemed to lack continuity, and it seemed to be more about relating essay writing (blogging) and aesthetic principles. So I decided to move the post to a more appropriate venue and simplify it at the same time. 

I love arguing with my 18-year-old daughter. Since she is “officially” an adult, she feels free to express her disagreements with me, but she does it respectfully, and I make sure the respect goes both directions. When we argue I can feel something waking in the back of my brain that I think needs to be awakened more often. I’m not sure what that spark is, but I have no doubt this gentle father-daughter sparring is exactly the kind of therapy my healing brain needs.

Yesterday’s argument was about my daughter’s English class. I insisted that a well written essay has a thesis that explores opposing views on a topic and then states and defends an opinion. She felt my view was too narrow, and more specifically, she felt a short essay cannot effectively cover opposing  views on a topic, because a short essay should be more limited. I responded that a controversy can be stated and resolved in a single sentence. She finally had enough. She said she needed to leave the room to avoid getting upset.

It was a minor clash. Her tone was respectful. I think an eighteen-year-old adult needs to establish her own boundaries, and the parent of an eighteen year old adult needs to gracefully accept healthy expressions of independence as a GOOD thing; although, sometimes it is hard to let go of the former parent-child relationship and to embrace the new adult-adult relationship that must replace it.

Initially, I asked my daughter about how school has been going for her recently. As we discussed various classes she is taking, She mentioned that her English class is writing daily essays. That struck my interest, because as a home-schooling parent, I had taken pride in the writing guidance I provided to my students. We used the textbook “The Lively Art of Writing” (Payne, 1965which teaches that a well-written essay explores its topic by comparing and contrasting two sides of a “controversy” expressed in the thesis sentence. I won't try to represent my daughter’s view because it is likely I did not fully understand  her view well. and I don’t want to misrepresent her perspective. I’ll stick with what I know, which is my OWN view. 

First, there are multiple valid ways to write an essay, just there are multiple styles of music. The chromatic structure of Wagner or Debussy is as valid as Bach’s strict adherence to forms and scales. These structures each work to form the backdrop of their respective compositions, and while Bach might call Debussy “wrong” for his anarchical tendencies, I believe he would have been as enchanted by Debussy’s art as Debussy was, no doubt, envious and respectful of Bach’s mathematical precision. Today it would be wrong to judge either composer’s work on the basis of the other's perspective.

Essays are as much an art as music. They are aesthetic expressions, and as such, their value is found in how successfully they draw the reader into the writer's contextual backdrop to identify with the thesis or to reject it. A great writer makes the reader see new perspectives. A balanced presentation of facts creates the aesthetic backdrop of the  essay, and the opinions that are expressed, compared, and contrasted create the tension and release that makes the writing interesting and worthwhile.

(For more about my aesthetic ideas, see my previous essay on aesthetic meaning and value at


Payne, L. V. (1965). The lively art of writing. Chicago: Follett Pub. Co.