Friday, September 11, 2009

Dihydrogen Monoxide: A Killer in the English Classroom

Have you heard about the colorless, odorless, tasteless chemical killer that’s lurking in your classroom every day of the school year? It’s in the beverages your students are drinking. It’s in the air every time someone coughs. And it’s even in your own body.

Dihydrogen monoxide is a compound that’s used in the manufacture of common plastics, and it’s also a major component of both acid rain and tumor cells. It can cause severe burns, and inhaling even small amounts of this substance can be fatal for humans, according to Dr. Tom Way of the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division. This chemical has been changing the face of our environment and posing health risks for centuries now, but very little has been done to curb the tide of its destruction.

Now, before you start petitioning the school board or drafting a bill to put before Congress, there’s one more minor detail you should know about dihydrogen monoxide—its chemical symbol is H­2O. That’s right; it’s just an obscure term for water. But if you were taken in by this sensationalistic report, you’re in good company. Similar accounts about the dangers of water have been in circulation for decades, and they’ve duped many intelligent people into signing petitions and proposing bans on this substance that’s absolutely essential to life on earth.

Fortunately, this little prank does more than just annoy its victims—and it really does relate to the English classroom outside of your students’ Nalgenes. That’s because it’s a perfect illustration of how language-arts lessons can be useful in real life. The fact is, from the time we pull out the Toasty Os at breakfast to the minute we turn on the evening news, we’re constantly bombarded with persuasive messages. And while many of the claims we’re exposed to might be perfectly factual, they can still be just as deceptive as the opening paragraphs of this blog post.
That’s why the analytical skills we develop in the English classroom are so vital to success in academia and in the outside world. When we learn to identify and properly use persuasive techniques, we are better prepared to recognize the pretexts behind the various texts we encounter, and we're better equipped to make responsible, well-informed decisions.

For some teaching resources that will help your students develop a more critical eye, check out the following Prestwick House titles:

Techniques of Propaganda and Persuasion
The Language of Politicians
The Language of Advertising Claims

Now available: Rhetoric, Logic, and Argumentation: A Guide for Student Writers

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