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Studies show that children raised in a household that votes predominantly for one party in elections will likely vote along the same party lines, especially if the parents are vocal about their beliefs. That would seem like a natural thing. Things and ideas we are exposed to as youth tend to shape the way we think.

I’ve heard students over the years utter extremely racist or other insensitive remarks and been taken aback. In some of those instances, upon contacting parents, I’ve understood why those students thought those things were okay to say. Mom and/or Dad also talked that way. Once, when telling parents their child had uttered a racial slur, I was asked, “What’s wrong with that?” Ah, the influence we have as parents…

Should we believe everything our parents tell us? Certainly not; those of us who are parents know we’ve all misled our children at times (I present to you certain holiday-related mascots), but I hope most of us try to set a good example for our children to follow. Do we persuade our children to have a particular outlook on different parts of life? Of course.

One thing we should perhaps teach them as well is the ability to look at all sides of an issue and to make up their own minds about topics. This is what my 8th graders have been working on as they delve into persuasive papers.

Persuasive writing is always one of my favorite units to teach. We start with the kids choosing a rule they dislike and would hope to see changed. Many write about their curfews or increasing passing time between classes. These are minor things in the grand scheme of life, but our focus is always on trying to look at all sides of the issue in question.

If the student is writing about curfew, he or she has to explain in the essay the parents’ point of view in imposing that curfew. If it is about passing time, the ability to understand the school’s reasoning for the three-minute limit is vital. Students learn to acknowledge that opposing viewpoint and then use that to springboard to their own reasons for desiring change.

We do this all the time, don’t we? If you go in to your boss and ask for a raise, don’t you need to know how the company has been doing? It helps your cause if you can point out recently increased profits before asking for more money for yourself. If you go in and ask for a raise without being aware that your company has lost money the past two quarters, you might look foolish and hurt future chances at an increase in pay.

Persuasion is a fine art. I use the analogy with my students of being a coach. A coach will look at how the opposing team runs their offense and their defense and devise a game plan to beat that. This is similar to looking at the opposing point of view in a debate or paper. If I know the team we’re playing will run a 2-3 zone defense, I’d better have my players ready to run an offense that can work against that. If you want to persuade somebody to change his or her mind, you’d better have a game plan and know their reasons for thinking that particular way before engaging in attempted persuasion.

The key is to always respect the other person’s right to have an opinion different from your own. We might be absolutely convinced that we are correct, and no matter how hard we try and how many great reasons we think we have, we might not be able to change the other person’s mind. There comes a point where we have to just admit we tried, but we won’t have success in that endeavor.

This was a difficult idea for this stubborn German to accept, but as I got older and matured, I learned to be more accepting of different ideas. College exposed me to so many different cultures and ideas and opened up a world of possibilities, if only I stopped to listen. My roommates and I had some fascinating discussions that really opened my eyes.

This is what I encourage with my students. Stop and listen for a moment. Think about all points on an issue. Contemplate all this before coming to a conclusion. If your mind stays the same, that’s fine. I’ve read many papers over the years with which I disagree, but some of the best I’ve read are ones where I’m opposed to the opinion expressed. However, the student has written a good persuasive essay, and if it gives me pause to think again, then the writing has done its job.

Ultimately, persuasion includes a strong voice, and I hope my students develop that ability. I use persuasion all the time, but just like my students when they debate with me, I don’t always win the argument. Even so, I will always understand the other person better, and that’s still a win.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is kippage, which means commotion or excitement, as in, “The kippage in the room rose was palpable when the student stumped the teacher during a debate.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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