Donald in the Classroom: Could Do Better

Dear General Kelly,

I understand that you are concerned about your ward Donald’s lack of progress in Rhetoric and Critical Thinking, especially in light of Professor McWhorter’s latest assessment, and you have requested this update as a matter of some urgency.  It distresses me to inform you that I share your concern.  I cannot recall the last time I ran across a student with so little affinity for the subject.  It is not that he lacks ability—Donald certainly exhibits native cunning—but it is almost a badge of honor for him to disregard the most basic tenets of the discipline.

Perhaps the problem has its roots in a common, if inaccurate, belief that “rhetoric” is synonymous with “insincerity.”  However, given Donald’s tendencies, I would have thought that this false equivalency would have been an attraction for him.  But rhetoric, the study and practice of writing as a means of communication and persuasion, is more than glib flourishes. The truly persuasive writer marries eloquence to clear thinking.  Both are necessary:  persuasion without substance descends to demagoguery, while logic without fluency is devoid of humanity.  Perhaps that explains Donald’s lack of interest in the course.

Or perhaps he is just a lazy bugger.  Whatever the root of the problem, it is obvious that Donald’s ability to express himself clearly, persuasively, and logically is strikingly anemic.

While his areas for development are legion, it would be utterly dispiriting (and, I should think, beyond the realm of human possibility) for Donald to attempt to correct all of them.  Therefore, I think that he should take small steps and focus on improving his register and avoiding dangerous hyperbole. His most recent speaking and listening assessment (a speech before the UN entitled “Why America is the Best and the Rest of You Suck (Except You, Vlad)”) provides a dazzlingly apt vehicle for illustrating these deficiencies in his rhetoric.

“Register” refers to the degree of formality adopted by the writer or speaker.  To appropriately gauge register, the writer needs to be aware of his audience.  Here, Donald was supposed to be addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations, for heaven’s sake—not a bunch of bros hanging out in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.  Referring to a fellow head of state as “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” is simply not the done thing, no matter how crazy you think he is. To call it juvenile would be an insult to adolescents everywhere.  Frankly, it was excruciating just to hear it, and judging from the photo of your reaction  while listening with the other grown-ups in the auditorium, I think you agree.  No wonder the judges gave him such poor marks.

However, such cringe-worthy remarks are indicative of an even greater problem.  Maybe, as has been suggested by some members of the faculty, his audience was NOT the legions of dignitaries and ambassadors seated before him.  Perhaps his actual audience were the very yahoos and locker room fauna that made him the student body president of this erstwhile fine institution of learning in the first place. The jarring informality of his tone certainly indicated that, even though Donald was standing behind the most prestigious podium in the world, his heart was in a half-empty convention hall in Phoenix.  But if that were indeed the case, then it might indicate that Donald’s narcissism is even more full-blown than the school psychologist had previously reported.  It takes a damning degree of self-regard to twist a solemn occasion into a campaign rally—especially when the election is long over.

I also believe that his tone deaf register is inextricably linked to his use of dangerous hyperbole. Instead of using facts, expert opinions, or any of the other tools available for developing reasoned arguments, Donald relentlessly resorts to facile exaggeration to make his points.  It’s always easier to use bombast than to take the time to unravel the threads of a diplomatic tangle, and it’s tempting to lob a grenade when we lack the patience (or wherewithal) to devise new approaches to intractable problems.  But as personally satisfying such tactics can be, they frequently cloud the issue, blind the listener, and needlessly antagonize the opposition.  We need only look at how the delegates’ collective sphincter visibly tightened after Donald threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” to understand how destructive gratuitous and emotional hyperbole can be.

Finally, although you did not request information about Donald’s behavior in school, I would be remiss in my duties as his homeroom teacher if I did not express my concerns about Donald’s continued association with young Stevie Miller.  Frankly, I find Stevie’s mesmeric hold over Donald not only confusing, but pernicious.  Donald exhibits truly nasty tendencies towards Mohamed and Maria whenever he and Stevie spend recess huddled together in a corner of the playground.  I hardly need to remind you of the trauma the class experienced earlier this term when Donald ripped Barack’s prize-winning essay, “My Birth and Childhood in Hawaii,” out of his hands and force fed the pages to the class’s pet lizard, Tucker. Furthermore, I’m aware that Vice Principal Mueller will be sending you a thorough report on Donald’s unhealthy relationship with Vladimir and its possible consequences on the student body president election.  On a more positive note, I would like to point out that Donald has become far less disruptive (although perhaps more disgruntled) since we moved the Bannon lad to a different homeroom.

I hope that this information is of use to you.  If you require any further assistance, please let me know.  God knows you’ll need it.

Best regards,

 

The Critical Thinking (And Homeroom 7B) Teacher

The New York Military Academy for Troubled Scions

 

©2017 D.R. Miller

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