Unfortunately for my students, what gets discussed more than anything in my ENGL 1301 and 1302 courses is Taco Bueno. Its menu. Its price. Its parking lots. Okay, perhaps this is a stretch. Let me clarify before I get myself into trouble.
Every teacher has a technique. We all want to connect with our students. We all want out students to learn. And, in an ideal classroom, we all want our students to connect to the material we are teaching. To do this we try a number of techniques and strategies. Some of them bomb; others go quite well; most of them seem to fit somewhere in the middle. Like all of you, I have my own techniques to help my students connect with the material. Some of them don’t work, while others get the job done. And while I vary my examples and artifacts on a weekly basis, from an all-campus email from a high-ranking university official to an article from the New York Times, I have realized that I have one recurring example: Taco Bueno. Strange, I know. How does Taco Bueno provide material for discussion? In a class focused on issues and writing about them, how does a typical fast-food restaurant provide fodder for rhetorical discussion? Or, as my students’ faces seem to consistently ask, why the hell do we keep talking about Taco Bueno?
When I say that Taco Bueno is my recurring example, what I mean is that I am consistently trying to contextualize the material of rhetorical analysis and writing for my students. And, for me, this works best whenever I use mundane, easy-to-understand examples; i.e. Taco Bueno. This takes place in a number of ways. On a day when we are talking about claims, reasons, evidence, etc. on a general, introductory manner, I’ll provide an example to illustrate what I mean. So when I tell them that their arguments are based on a central claim, a focused idea of which they are trying to convince their audience, I’ll give them an example: “We should eat at Taco Bueno after class.” Sophisticated? No. Well-worded? Of course not. But it’s a claim, and it’s something that students can understand without difficulty. On another day we might talk about counterarguments and responding to naysayers. We discuss what exactly it means to address a naysayer respectfully and present their argument fairly and accurately: “At the same time, Todd Womble—a local manager of a Taco Bell—argues that Bell consistently uses fresher and better ingredients in their items.” We talk about finding common ground and making concessions: “Womble makes a strong point in his description of Bell’s ingredients, and he is correct to assert that Bell does in fact use fresh produce.” And we stress the importance of offering specific and strong rebuttals: “But while Womble does make strong points about Taco Bell’s ingredients, this argument does not necessarily show that Bell’s products are any ‘fresher’ than those used by Taco Bueno. If Taco Bell uses fresh tomatoes and lettuce, does this mean that Taco Bueno cannot use similar ingredients?”
By the latter half of the semester, my students are not surprised to hear something about Taco Bueno. Whenever we talk about a specific element of our papers, or discuss a new aspect of rhetorical theory and academic writing, they know that our recurring Bueno discussion will soon resume. I assume that some of them find this strange, and others probably wish that I would move on to a different example. But I do know that each of them understands exactly what these Taco Bueno examples mean, and this is why I continue to use them. In order for lower-level composition students to advance to higher-level rhetorical writing, we must challenge them to think in new and uncomfortable ways. But I feel strongly that they must first recognize and comprehend the basic elements and conventions before they move on to these challenges. And, for me, using unsophisticated examples like convincing your roommate where you want to go to dinner, or arguing about which fast-food joint offers better hot sauce and a bigger parking lot, allows me to be sure that my students do understand what exactly a claim is, how you go about formulating a reason, what it means to address a naysayer, etc.
This does not come from reading articles or books about pedagogy, and I know that no one ever advised me to find a fast-food restaurant to clarify my teaching. Instead, I think this comes from years spent in a classroom as a student, struggling to understand the material in front of me. As a student, I know what it’s like to be confused and frustrated with the subject matter. I can empathize with my students whenever they are clueless about an assignment or unsure about how to start their essay. I have felt the same way. And in my own experiences, whether in a freshman mathematics course or a graduate seminar on literary theory, the best way I was able to overcome this confusion and grasp some sort of comprehension was through contextualization via clear and easy-to-understand illustrations and examples. I still use these examples when I re-encounter certain theories or confusing analyses today, and they continue to help me. I don’t want to patronize my students, and I know that a move beyond these simplistic arguments is the goal. But a foundation built on understanding and comprehension undoubtedly fosters more productive attempts at achieving this goal.
Borrowing from the teachers that have helped me in the past, I want to enable my students in their efforts to “master” rhetorical argument and composition. And for me, recurring examples like Taco Bueno help me to do this. To a certain extent, you probably do this same thing. What’s your Taco Bueno?