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Concession, Refutation, and Rebuttal in "Bart's Comet"

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Ned Flanders invites the town into his bomb shelter.
Image Credit: 

This file is an image owned by Fox and The Simpsons. The file's use qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Use the acclaimed Simpson's episode "Bart's Comet" to teach refutation, rebuttal, and concession in a fun, group dynamic. Class groups are asked to don the role of familiar Simpson's characters and justify why their character, rather than others, deserves to continue living in the "world of the future." 

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

After completing this exercise, students should feel more comfortable refuting their opponents, anticipating rebuttal arguments, and making strategic concessions in both written and oral argument. 

Required Materials: 

An instructor station with highspeed internet is ideal, however I have completed the exercise with only the episode's script (acting out the dialogue can be a camaraderie-building exercise in and of itself). Simpson's episodes are ritually taken down from youtube, so if you would like to view the actual clip you will need to obtain the third DVD of the Season 6 box set (episode 117). The bombshelter sequence begins after about 19 minutes. Large index cards are also helpful, but not absolutely necessary. 

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Begin class by explaining the basics of refutation ("you're wrong"), rebuttal ("I'm right"), and concession ("ok - you're right, but aren't I really righter"). After establishing these basic concepts, introduce the context of the Bart's Comet episode: while working with Principal Skinner, Bart has discovered a comet. Unfortunately, the comet is heading directly for Springfield and will inevitably destroy the town and the entire population unless they find adequate shelter. 

Altruist Ned Flanders, of course, is the only town resident to have gone to the trouble of building a bomb shelter ahead of time. Following Homer's lead, the entire town arrives at Flander's bomb shelter demanding to be let in.

Once you have established the basics of the storyline, divide your class into five groups. Pass out 4x7 index cards with team assignments listed on the front and blank space on the back to brainstorm ideas. Group one will represent the character Moe (the bar owner); group two represents Lisa Simpson; group three Reverend Lovejoy; group four Homer; group five Krusty the Clown. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

The index cards should provide instructions for each group to respond to another team--and their Simpson's character's--argument, e.g. Moe the bartender responds to Reverend Lovejoy, Lisa responds to her father, Homer, and Krusty the Clown responds to Lovejoy or whomever (as long as they are a character you have chosen to represent).      

Instructions For Students: 

Instruct the groups to take a few minutes to collaboratively construct a reasoned argument that justifies why their character deserves to live in the "world of the future," anticipating points of refutation and rebuttal of the character they will be responding to. Groups should choose a leader to present. After each of the groups have delivered their initial argument, give them new time to prepare new statements that include direct refutation, rebuttals, and concessions to their opponent's claims. Depending on how much time you allot for preparation, a 75 minute class should allow for at least two rounds of presentations and, possibly, three.


Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

Students generally have a lot of fun with this exercise. To a point, allow them to "get carried away." Try to act mainly as a moderator, bringing their attention back to the concepts of refutation, rebuttal, and concession whenever possible. 

Course Description: 

This exercise was originally designed for RHE 306 but could be used for any rhetoric course looking to establish, or refresh, the concepts of refutation, rebuttal, and concession. 

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