Some time last week, I had a delightfully twisted brainwave. I wish that I had the chops to design and teach a portion of the standard high-school English curriculum just to incorporate a unit that I would christen “Offensive Writing / Defensive Reading.”
The endgame of said unit would be to prepare students against manipulation when consuming media. The most engaging path to learning this power is to engage in some shadiness yourself. I daresay that students would find delight in this half-malicious study.
- We begin by studying propaganda – written, spoken, and depicted. Students will be given a couple of simple propaganda projects to practice (and experience) amplification and distortion.
- We progress into op-eds, a much longer study. Students will produce essays deliberately and fallaciously misconstruing reality, learning to artfully deploy and deceive.
- The final portion of this incorporates public speaking, splitting the class in half. We choose an issue and have each half choose a side. Then, each side prepares 2 cases.
- The first case is objective, carefully researched, and generally “defensive.”
- The second case is mendacious and slippery, bordering on the intellectually dishonest (like the loudest radio show hosts) – generally “offensive.”
- We hold two rounds of debate, complementing offense and defense on both sides to let both halves experience both attacking and being attacked.
Great care must be spent choosing topics that are not hot-button current events. Historical, well-documented, but non-common-knowledge events are good candidates. There is a nonzero chance that students will sustain some offense (or even trauma) along the way. And if any student is unlucky enough to believe some of the crap that comes of these teachings (e.g. “what if Jonathan Swift is right about eating children?”), it may calcify as a lifelong impediment in determining truth. That would be the ultimate failure in teaching.