As my students continue their exploration of possible formal argument topics, for the unit required by my institution, I continue to stress, as a National Writing Project teacher should, that argument is a conversation. My goal is for my students to consider an issue that is important to them, urgent in their community, and offers room for conversation. The idea is to explore and consider possible solutions rather than attempting to score points in a debate. This to me is the most important and often ignored role of rhetoric in our society. And so I chose Joy Harjo’s Once the World Was Perfect to guide our thinking and writing this week.
I’ve been on quite the Joy Harjo kick of late although I’ve always been a fan. So much of her work really speaks to me and I love the layers of her poetry. Those layers make Once the World Was Perfect a great exploration of the type of topics I want my students to consider for a written argument. The many ways that we humans harm each other and our world and yet the contradiction that we also help and sacrifice for one another. The many weaknesses and failings of humanity in contrast with all the ways that together we can do anything. Our persistent belief that perfection is attainable and disagreement about what that perfection is as well as when it is achieved.
As a writer I’m also drawn to simply explore the shadows that exist in all of us and how humanity is really about trying to live in those shadows finding balance between the light and the dark. There is much inspiration to be found in Once the World Was Perfect and I hope you find it as fruitful an exploration as my students and I.