Mentor Text Wednesday: Why Dolly Parton Doesn’t a Nashville Statue – Yet

Mentor Text: Why Dolly Parton Doesn’t Deserve a Nashville Statue — Yet by Marcus K. Dowling

Techniques:

  • Expressing Opinion
  • Using Evidence to Reinforce Opinion
  • Critical Thinking

Background – In this house, we believe in Dolly Parton.

Her records are regularly spun, and we believe in her messages of kindness and compassion. If our daughters manage to soak in her confidence and determination, we’ll be happy.

If you’re active on social media, Dolly creeps in at the corners a lot. I mean, you can get a Saint Dolly prayer candle or t-shirt, but in the gongshow that was 2020, that really seemed a fitting title. From her regular support of literacy, to her definitive statements on racial tensions (kind of a big deal in normally conservative country music) to her funding of COVID vaccine work, she seemed to be on the right side of everything. (Fun fact I just learned last week: her production company produced the wonderful Buffy The Vampire Slayer show. Dolly’s even got geek cred!)

It’s no surprise then, that in 2020, as statues of racists fell, the answer to the question of what replaced those statues, for some, was Dolly. I’m not going to lie, I think it’s a cool idea, but I really liked the counterpoint that was put forth in this piece for Rolling Stone: Country. It’s an interesting look into whether or not Dolly Parton statues are the way to go.

How We Might Use This Text:

Expressing Opinion – I really like this piece as a mentor text for expressing opinion. Dowling lays out his opinions in a well structured piece that is approachable for many of our writers. In fact, it is that structure that drew me to it as a mentor text originally. There is a solid introduction that establishes context, followed by his opinions.

Opinions. I like this for our writers. Often, it seems as if we ask students to narrow their focus to a single opinion, a single thesis if you will. I love that Dowling has dropped connected opinions here: First off, there are better, or perhaps more currently relevant options for a statue to replace the racist one that was removed, and that at some point, it makes sense to honour Dolly Parton. I actually love that this pair of slightly contrasting opinions are presented alongside each other. There is a recognition that though Parton is deserving, there might be a better choice right now.

Using Evidence to Reinforce Opinion – Dawson uses quotes very well to reinforce his opinions. It reminds me of the rhetorical devices from Gerald Graff’s They Say, I Say. When I give students the handout that shares many of those stems, I need to start giving them mentor texts like this alongside. A prime example comes at the end: “Putting up a statue of someone who is a generally nice person because Nathan Bedford Forrest was such a bad person is good. But honoring someone who embodied exactly everything that Forrest didn’t is best.” This quote from Andrea Williams, used right before the concluding paragraph in this piece succinctly reinforces the arguments that Dawson makes throughout the piece – using the words of an expert to restate his thesis.

And throughout the piece, quotes are used like this, to strengthen the arguments Dawson is making. They reinforce his assertion of a better candidate for a new statue, as well as commenting on Parton’s stature.

In short, the quotes are there for purpose, not padding. I think too often, when we want students to use quotes in their writing, it becomes about the requirement for them, and they shoehorn the appropriate number of quotes into their writing. As my semester ends, I know that I’m reflecting on this practice for future courses, and will use a mentor text like this one to model this.

Critical Thinking – I frequently tell students that writing, especially in early drafts, is thinking on paper. I love this piece as a model of what critical thinking can look like in written form.

First off, the core thesis of Dawson’s piece is basically countering a pretty popular opinion. The idea of replacing statues of racists with folks like Dolly Parton really isn’t being met with much opposition. In fact, what drew me to this piece was the title, as it was the first thing I’ve seen that balked at the suggestion of such a statue. I think, in conversation in class, we delve into “Yeah, but…” territory, but I don’t know how often it happens in their writing. I love the idea of encouraging them to find a popular opinion, and exploring it, speaking against it with critical thought.

Part of what happens in this piece that works as critical thinking is that Dawson explores more than a single side of the issue. He posits not only why Parton is, and isn’t deserving of this honour, but presents other options, making a strong case for one of them. Though critical thinking is more than looking at opposing sides of an issue, it’s a pattern of writing, and thinking, that could pay dividends in their writing.

A thing that I’ve been struggling with as a reader, viewer, general fan of media, and as a teacher these last few years is the question of separating art and artist. It’s something that I’ve thought about having students explore, because I know that these same issues will eventually crop up in their consumption of media. Dawson’s piece might be a mentor text for this important activity. Yet another reason to put it in the mentor text file.

What mentor texts do you have for working with opinion? Do you have go to texts and strategies for working with certain elements of writing, such as using quotations?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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