Week 5: Monday, September 22nd - Friday, September 26th

Week 6:  Key Terms and Definitions                                backReturn to Overview

In order for you to help your students complete their Issue Analysis work, it is important to understand the fundamental definitions upon which this unit is built.  In short, a "position" is held by a single person/author.  In Portfolio 1, we defined the positions of individual authors through summary.  An "approach" is a perspective that is comprised of more than one person/writer; what holds the approach together is a common thread of values, beliefs, concerns, purposes, etc.  An approach also helps us figure out how to make sense of a complex issue.  Rather than trying to remember 30-40 unique positions on an issue (and to make distinctions among them), we can define three or four shared perspectives or approaches to the issue.  The goal here is not to dilute the richness of the issue but is to preserve it by organizing sources clearly and accessibly.

See the example below for an application of these terms.

Individual Positions and Shared Approaches

In high school most of us learned to simplify approaches into two categories, "pro" and "con," in order to examine a debate. However, shared approaches typically run much deeper than "pro" and "con" since every person's views are complicated by various social and cultural factors. Here's an example: Let's say we reduced the issue of legalizing drugs to "pro" and "con"--then it could be said that both government officials and members of religious groups take the same shared approach toward legalizing drugs, since both groups oppose making these substances legal. A closer examination of the arguments made by members of each group indicates, however, that they do not share the same views. Government representatives are likely to oppose legalization because they claim that drugs are harmful to society as a whole. In contrast, authors who oppose legalization because of their religious beliefs might do so largely because it goes against the teaching of their faiths.

Let’s consider another group--parents. Some of these individuals may oppose drug legalization because their children have become victims of drug abuse. These individual positions would differ from those advanced by members of the previous groups due to different experiences that have shaped parents’ lives. However, depending on the specific argument they make, a parent who writes a text protesting the legalization of drugs might share the approach taken by a government official or member of a religious group. Thus, although a parent will have his or her own individual position on this issue, he or she would take the same shared approach as that taken by certain government officials and members of particular religious groups.

Yet another group weighing in on the issue of legalization is civil libertarians–who believe that individuals should be free to make decisions about drug use free of regulation by the government. These authors argue that drug use is an individual choice and, even if it harms the individual, is nonetheless something that the individual should be free to do. This argument is similar in many ways to arguments about mandatory use of helmets on motorcycles and even to some arguments that “risky” sports such as skiing should not be regulated by the government.

Two additional groups interested in this issue adopt economic approaches. One group argues that the amount of money the government is spending attempting to combat drug use has largely been wasted. Since drug use has declined only somewhat since the government began fighting the drug war, the government should reconsider its tactics and, as it did when it lifted the prohibition on alcohol, legalize drug use. The core of this argument is that the money now spent on the drug ware would be better spent on societal needs. The other group taking an economic approach – albeit a very different approach – are companies that would view the legalization of drugs such as marijuana as a threat to their viability might include representatives of alcohol and tobacco companies. It's fair to say that alcohol and tobacco companies don't oppose drug use solely because drugs are harmful to people (after all, the consumption of both results in many deaths per year). It’s also fair to say that these authors would be unlikely to come out and say, “Don’t legalize drugs because it will cost us money.” As a result, while representatives of tobacco and alcohol companies might oppose legalization of drugs for economic reasons, they would probably avoid couching their arguments in those terms.

Given these examples, clearly it would be inaccurate to clump these very different arguments into "pro" and "con". If we did, much of the meaning or truth behind the issue would be lost. The goal for a "good" writer of public discourse should always be to produce texts that seek to fairly represent the issues (for the betterment of society). Thus, it can be viewed as dishonest for writers to reduce the complexity of an issue unnecessarily. In part, this is why you (student writers) are being asked to think critically about these different individual positions and shared approaches.

After you've read and summarized your sources, look for common threads that cut across sources as a way to group them into different shared approaches. Here's what it might look like for the example above.

Topic: Legalization of Drugs

Shared Approach 1: Oppose legalization because it is harmful to society as a whole

Shared Approach 2: Oppose legalization for moral reasons because it is against religious teachings

Shared Approach 3: Favor legalization for individual rights reasons

Shared Approach 4:
Favor legalization for economic reasons because the war against drugs has been ineffective

Shared Approach 5:
Oppose legalization for economic reasons

Of course, you could argue that the government is also economically motivated and that representatives of alcohol and tobacco companies may legitimately believe that drugs are harmful to society. If the support for these claims outweighs the others, you'd need to group the positions of authors arguing about differently. Keep in mind that grouping positions into approaches is far from an exact science; you'll need to read various arguments before generalizing views into approaches in order to represent each group fairly.