Peter Cho

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Final Reflections on the Experience

I changed my project idea about a week or two before it was due. Originally, I planned on writing about basketball – a passion of mine – and specifically, about one of my favorite players, Kobe Bryant. All throughout college I had numerous heated arguments about Kobe and about his place in NBA history, and earlier this semester I had a similar argument with a few friends. I thought that it would make for a good CyberOne project. But I soon found myself questioning the utility of the argument and so I decided to find a new issue, one that I cared about and one that was also practical and relevant to a wider range of people.

The Project Idea

I decided to explore the issue of corporal punishment for children, often referred to as “spanking” in the U.S. The impetus for this idea began years ago when I was a junior in college. In 2001, I had a long and heated debate with two friends about the merits of spanking. They had grown up severely spanked as children whereas I had not; not surprisingly, they vehemently defended the practice and saw it as an effective disciplinary measure that proved to be critical in their own development. I questioned it and vowed to never spank my own children. Given the passion both sides exhibited in the debate, and given the importance of the potential ramifications of the practice, I decided to explore it further for this class.

As I began to think about my approach, I was forced to reflect and clarify my own views on the practice. Previously, I had been against spanking as a personal matter; I did not think the practice should be banned and I even saw it as an effective and limited tool for responsible parents. As I progressed in my research, though, I stumbled upon a wealth of information on both sides of the debate and realized that the debate had been robust and fierce for quite some time. Soon I was convinced that spanking should be avoided.

What I Learned

As a part of my research, I read numerous articles and studies on corporal punishment. I was surprised to discover how robust and thorough many of the studies were. It was clear to me that many researchers and academics had been committed to shedding light on the practice. I also visited and thoroughly explored numerous websites dedicated to the issue. Some websites were substantial and professional while others were simply pet projects of passionate citizens.

After learning so much about the issues revolving around spanking, I concluded that the debate is often so heated because it suffers from an information void. With that realization, I sought to create a website to alert pro-spanking advocates of the existence of this void and to begin curing the problem. So I created a website with this in mind.

Implementation of Ideas

I had two main goals for my website: 1) to provide ample information to visitors in a variety of formats and 2) to create an interactive space for visitors to motivate them to spend more time exploring the issues. Based on my assumption that many people in this debate are not aware of all the issues surrounding spanking, I sought to provide enough information to educate those in the dark, just as I was. Thus, I included numerous studies for visitors to download, a page with links to numerous sites where visitors can explore further the issue, and a page summarizing, in general, the current law in the U.S. and abroad. Though my website is by no means an exhaustive warehouse serving as an aggregation of all there is to know about spanking, it can serve as a first step, an initial foray into the universe of an informed debate on the practice.

In addition to providing information, I also sought to focus on the presentation of my arguments and information to make a more effective impact. After reflecting on my own use of the internet, I realized that websites with interactive environments were the most successful in keeping me engaged long enough to absorb the message offered by the sites. Thus, I created a podcast series to allow visitors to listen to others speak about the practice in a non-threatening forum. I also created a page with videos for those who desired a powerful visual element to the discussion. Some people may be more open to listening and watching than to reading. I also created spaces for visitor input which led to the inclusion of web polls scattered throughout a few pages and to a discussion page. By providing options to visitors, I hope to keep them engaged with the issues.

Main Lessons Learned

Perhaps the greatest challenge I faced – and the greatest lesson I learned – was trying to use an empathic argument effectively. I was forced to think differently and more critically in my approach to formulating both my argument and its presentation in cyberspace. Initially I had difficulty creating an empathic approach. It is generally much easier to ignore the other side of a debate. It is much easier to demonize your opponent and rattle off an endless list of attacks and criticisms. But an empathic approach calls for identifying your target audience, understanding their concerns and issues, and acknowledging and understanding those concerns and issues while also putting forth your own argument, but in a manner that does not undermine your ability to understand. When I wrote the first draft of my argument for this project, I had to change most of it because it was too argumentative and one-sided; it was totally devoid of an empathic element. It was better tailored for a speech and debate tournament, not so much for the court of public opinion. It was the type of argument that hardens people and closes them off to communication as a reaction against strong attacks. It took several more drafts – each draft adding a new layer to an empathic approach – before my argument took proper shape.

In addition to working to develop an empathic argument, I realized that presenting effectively my argument through cyberspace and using optimally all the different cyber tools available to us required much more creativity and discernment than I had originally thought. And this is another major point I take from my experience in CyberOne: that even though I may have a good argument, I need to emphasize and focus on its delivery as well. Creating my own website made me realize how in the past I had taken for granted successful blogs and websites. I now recognize and appreciate the ingenuity that goes into the presentation of successful arguments through cyberspace and through the use of new technologies. Spending a semester experimenting with different web mediums and new technologies proved invaluable in deepening my understanding of the bigger picture. This class has opened my eyes to the rhetorical environment we inhabit and to the Necker cube phenomena inherent in all arguments. These are the lessons I take from this challenging and enjoyable experience.