Writing students learn from #epicfail


Miley Cyrus’s 2013 VMA performance that brought “twerking” to the national forefront is being used by one professor as a catalyst for a composition class at TCU.

Professor Thomas Jesse, a TCU doctoral teaching fellow for the 2014-2015 school year, is teaching “#epicfail as argument,” an intermediate writing class this semester. It was the infamous VMA performance that ignited his interest on what students can learn from failure.

“She was sort of the spark of this course,” Jesse said. “Watching the VMA’s a couple years ago and seeing her performance. She was trending on twitter and was the subject of numerous articles and essays afterward.”

“She became sort of pop culture for at least a couple of weeks there. So I was fascinated by the idea that someone could do something so outlandish and become so ever-present.”

Students in Jesse’s class are examining speeches that flopped, tweets that shocked society, movies that “bombed” at the box office and books that confused their readers to further understand the process by which effective communication works.

“The class is essentially looking at argumentation, looking at how we create arguments,” Jesse said. “Then looking at that through the lens of here are arguments that fail, so what can we learn from that?”

Meredith Trank, a junior psychology and religion double major enrolled in the class, said that there is an important reason people need to understand their mistakes.

“So you don’t make them again and so that you can improve upon them and also use them as examples to help others in the future who might struggle with the same failure as you have,” Trank said.

Kelly Guilbeau, a sophomore biology and religion double major in Jesse’s class, said  “important to understand why things can go wrong, and why things don’t go the way you planned so you don’t make those mistakes again.”

Jesse, who also taught the class in the fall, said he had to revise the syllabus twice before it was accepted by the school.

Jesse wants his students to know that failed rhetoric can teach just as much as the great speeches and arguments of well-known history.

“We can still learn from that,” Jesse said. “We can still grow from that. We can still become smarter and better from understanding those things. I see a lot of students who are really nervous about failure, really anxious about failure in their own lives. What I hope the course shows them is that we can still learn a lot from moments where things don’t go according to plan.”