If teaching is not the oldest profession, it certainly has a long historical pedigree. The frustrations teaching evokes likely have an equally long pedigree. One sees in Plato's Republic, for example, Socrates' frustration in trying to convey to Glaukon the aims of the educational scheme he is presenting to his interlocutors in Book 8. His evident difficulties relaying this information have doubtless struck sympathetic chords in the breasts of countless generations of teachers. Frustration has certainly been the case for the present authors, particularly in teaching the analysis and understanding of secondary commentary on classic texts; when reading such articles, students express puzzlement about the long debate over seemingly trivial points. Many come away from such classes convinced it is not worth investing time in understanding classic texts because the discussion of them centers on apparently arcane and obscure grammatical, historical, or technical questions. This essay presents an approach with which the authors have had some measure of success in helping students “see the point” of this especially difficult dimension of analyzing and understanding texts and authors. Our approach teaches students to identify and appreciate the “agenda argument” often put forward by such commentators. An “agenda argument” is a contemporary scholar's effort to address a current problem or issue through critical reflection on an iconic text or author in the field. The term “agenda” is appropriate because it clarifies that the scholar has an interest in an underlying general claim through discussion of the technical points being debated. In other words, the scholar has a larger agenda in mind that guides the selection of issues and determines the use of points in the text.
Harman, John D. and Vanderbilt, Deborah (2006). "Agendas, Arguments, and Political Theory." PS: Political Science & Politics 39.4, 907-910.
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