First, let me tell you how much I sympathize with you. This kind of
situation is most difficult to deal with. I have dealt with it twice in
the past, and now I attempt to head it off before it happens.
The most serious case involved a young man who was provoking the young
women in the course by writing a persuasive piece trying to convince them
the prostitution was a great way for college students to earn extra
income. He thought it was funny, hilarious, in fact. I didn't and
neither did they. My response then was to tell him in his first draft
that he had missed his audience. Neither I as a reader not the rest of
the class were amused. His response, of course, was that we were all
"politically correct" and lacked asense of humour. Because I warned him,
I was able to justify failing the paper. However, I was not happy with
the basis on which I did so.
Now in my program here at Waterloo, I address the problem directly by
bringing in Katz article on the Holocaust--that amazing memo by Mr. Just
that talks about disposing of human beings in totally objective
language. I have put this into a unit on ethics in which we explore the
problematic of ends and means (Plato and Aristotle) and the power of
language to both construct and destroy. This provides me with a much
firmer basis for objecting to your student's kind of rhetoric--it's
Nazism, of course.
Catherine F. Schryer
University of Waterloo
PS. the Katz article appeared in College English a couple of years ago.