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Chaparral 2015-2016: 24.3 Just the Facts, Ma’am

Just the Facts, Ma’am (December 2015)

Just the Facts, Ma’am

by Joseph Longo

In Hard Times, Charles Dickens wrote: “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.”  

In this quote, Dickens was mocking the use, or overuse, of facts. But it is now facts that are sorely lacking in contemporary discourse. It seems that the use of facts is what is being mocked or ignored or omitted. And not the overuse of them. Therefore, I have decided to put even more emphasis in my writing courses on including stronger and more salient facts in my students’ essays. 

For example, Donald Trump made this infamous statement at the start of his presidential campaign: “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best... They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He made that statement without offering any support to back them up. 

Also the denial of the scientific facts of climate change is somewhat acceptable, even though the ice caps in Antarctica are melting, there is current world-wide warming trend, and California is suffering its worst drought in history. The scientific facts are there. But many refuse to accept them. 

Students today get most of their information from the internet. And much of the information is opinion that many assume are facts. Recently, a number of news articles were posted on Facebook stating the documented fact that Neo Nazis and the KKK are backing Donald Trump. A number of Trump followers posted that the facts weren't true. Then someone posted on 9/11 in response to that that the people who were behind the attack were now running our government. It was a lengthy piece filled with opinion and not one fact to substantiate that claim. That statement received many “likes.” 

So what does this all have to do with my teaching English 101? Well, because of todays’ non-reliance or support for statements, for facts, and the confusion of opinion for fact, I decided to emphasize more strongly the difference between fact and opinion and the need for support/facts in my students’ essays. I have always done this in my courses, but I feel that in today’s climate the emphasis on these points need to be more strongly emphasized. 

In the first assignment I gave my English 101 class this semester, I gave my students a number of topics to pick from which to develop a thesis. They had to support their thesis statement with personal experiences. I received first drafts, and most of the essays were filled with generalizations - and not specific personal experiences. I made comments about the lack of specifics, of facts, on their papers, and then I delivered a lecture giving them example of how to make their essays stronger by including specific examples. One of the prompts was to write about what is involved in having a successful relationship. All the rewrites, however, were happily filled with specific examples from the students’ lives. And the essays were interesting and fun to read. Then I had them write a short research paper, and again I emphasized the need for specific example, for facts. And most of the essays came in with strong examples to back up the thesis statements. 

The lack of support and generalizations and accepting opinion for fact have been eating away at me lately. So I want to do my little part in rectifying that. As detective Joe Friday used to say on the 1950s TV show Dragnet: “Just the facts, Ma’am.”


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