I stopped in Borders today with no intention of grabbing anything in particular. When my son wandered over to the Young Adult table, I decided to  look for a couple of texts that were on my Christmas list, but didn’t show up under my tree…and none were available in store.

So, I ended up picking up a copy of The Federalist, which is available online. This Modern Library edition is edited by Robert Scigliano, a Boston College political-science professor. His substantial introduction to the papers provides background that I wouldn’t get from the online versions, and an interesting perspective on some of the controversies surrounding authorship of the 85 commentaries.

From  this intro, I gleaned something of significance to my teaching this semester that I hadn’t before considered. My students rarely understand the power  writing can have. Most consider it something that they do in exchange for a grade. It is quite a struggle to convince them that to write is to create knowledge, to express, and to participate in civic discourse.

I plan to use The Federalist Papers to demonstrate the significance of argumentative writing to their lives. I won’t assign them as reading, but I plan to provide them as an example–Alexander Hamilton had a problem. He had to convince the state delegates to ratify the Constitution forming a national government. If they did not, each state would be completely self-governed.

Hamilton and other Federalists had had no luck convincing the hold-out states, so he brainstormed and came up with a plan to write a series of newspaper pieces  that would, “…present a full discussion of the merits of the proposaed constitution in all its relations.”

He enlisted John Jay and James Madison to co-author in their areas of expertise…and the plan worked. By the power of the pen, the citizens and state delegates were persuaded by the written word.  Without  persuasive writing, the United States of America would not exist.

Will my students be awed? Doubtful. But perhaps it will give them something to think about as they pen their own arguments.