Showing results for 
Show  only  | Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

Controversy Without Context

1 0 259

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

Failte from Dublin, Ireland!

As I travel around Europe over the next few months, my eyes and ears are open to local customs and events, not only because I'm traveling around Europe, but also because it provides tons of opportunities for fresh material to use in teaching when I get back.

The best thing about these opportunities is that they come without the baggage of more familiar material, requiring more decoding by the students who must undertake learning the backgrounds of the situations.

Take, for example, the crucial upcoming vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

(HUH? I hadn't heard of it before getting off the plane, but Dublin is plastered with "YES" and "NO" posters trying to sway voters in preparation for the Irish referendum on October 2, in which the Irish will decide the extent of their participation in the European Union.)

Obviously this is a very complicated matter, and it would take a long time to explain the full history behind the issue, not to mention the arguments on both sides. However, in terms of rhetorical analysis---particularly visual rhetorical analysis---the inescapable billboards on almost every lamppost got my brain churning about how I would use them in class.

At the bottom of this post you'll find some of the many photographs that we took of some of these signs---and there are dozens of different ones--- which make very clear use of appeals to emotion and authority, although local commentary in the newspapers is pretty good at pointing out that the signs themselves are less than informative for those trying to come to a reasoned conclusion about what to vote.

It's interesting they very often directly contradict one another, requiring the reader to question the ways in which the arguments are presented, and what makes them convincing.

To wit, the different sides variously claim that the Irish should fear control by an outside power; they should feel secure and confident that the EU will take care of them. They should believe their most trusted leaders; they should honor the legacy of those who fought for their freedoms and remain sovereign. They should take advantage of the gains made in labour, industry and commerce; they should beware market controls that will ruin local industries.

How much of the claims on either side are inflated rhetoric bears investigation, but for the most part, students can make inferences about the competing interests based on the visuals and by juxtaposing opposing signs on similar topics.

Then, some more investigation on the Web sites of the different positions and researching any further information about the Lisbon Treaty itself will yield an opportunity for more extensive argument. (There are many more Web sites available than the ones I've linked here---some of the Web sites can be found on the posters themselves.)

Added benefit? Your students will be reminded that interesting controversies happen all over the world, not just in their own backyards. Try pairing this material with the "global, national, or local controversy" AP® Language question from several years ago to create a synthesis package.

Photo credits: David Kruger

View results of the vote here.

®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.