Professor Seuss: Teaching Spoken Argument with Bartholomew and the Oobleck, sponsored by The Institute for Writing and Rhetoric.
At Thursday’s workshop, Speech Lecturer Josh Compton demonstrated how he and co-teacher Paul Klaas used Dr. Seuss’ Bartholomew and the Oobleck to teach spoken argument in their Legal Rhetoric class. Professor Compton began the session by raising the question, “Why Suess?” In other words, why choose an unconventional text to teach legal rhetoric? Even more intriguing is that the children’s book was put “in conversation” with Cicero. By working back and forth between two very different texts, students learned that the principles that they apply to a reading of Cicero can also be applied to a reading of Suess. In the process, they learned to use rhetorical lenses to analyze trial arguments, and employed rhetorical principles to prepare and deliver dynamic and convincing trial arguments of their own.
And here is where the fun comes in. It turns out that Bartholomew and the Oobleck is chock full of crime. In order to have a way of judging these crimes, Professors Compton and Klass created laws for Suess’s kingdom of Didd, taking language from New Hampshire State Law. They then asked students to either prosecute or defend a particular case—for instance, King Derwin v. The Roayal Magicians, a case that potentially involves fraud and breach of warranty. Students presented their arguments—for and against—to their classmates, who served as jurors in deciding each case. The class then reflected upon the arguments made, and the various rhetorical and legal strategies that came into play.
Students clearly enjoyed this assignment. They also reported the assignment to be the most challenging of the term. In the end it seems that using unconventional texts extends to students the opportunity to transfer their capabilities and practices from traditional academic texts to unexpected ones, and to experience both fun and rigor in the process.