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Response to a Tragedy

posted: 12.2.11 by Donna Winchell

5849880406_9236b94440_mOne of my colleagues from the English department wondered, on Facebook, whether our colleagues in the math and science departments have spent any class time over the last couple of weeks discussing events at Penn State. Should those of us in the humanities be talking about these events with our students? Your answer may be a resounding no. You may believe that it’s not our responsibility to provide a place for our students to vent.

However, an argumentation class is the perfect place to examine the logic—or lack of logic—behind the reactions to the alleged crimes in what has been called the biggest scandal in college sports. Whether or not they are football fans, students should be able to examine statements related to the case, and identify them as legitimate statements or logical fallacies.

Consider the following statements. Is each valid, or does it illustrate a logical fallacy? (It may help to look at the indictment or at this lengthy Sports Illustrated article.)

  1. The sex scandal at Penn State is just like the sex scandal in the Catholic Church.
  2. Penn State’s last game should have been cancelled out of respect for the alleged victims.
  3. McQueary deserves to die for what he did!
  4. We are . . . Penn State!
  5. Joe Paterno should not have been fired. He is the “winningest” coach in college football history.
  6. The grand jury indicted Curley and Schultz but not Paterno.
  7. Paterno is not guilty of any crime. He was not even indicted by the grand jury.
  8. Paterno fulfilled both his legal and moral obligation by reporting the 2002 incident to Schultz, whose office is in charge of the campus police at Penn State.
  9. When Sandusky was banned from the football facilities, it was the same as Penn State telling him his crimes were okay as long as they took place somewhere else.
  10. If you know about a crime and do not report it, you are just as guilty as the person who commits the crime.
  11. All of the good that Joe Paterno did while a coach at Penn State outweighs one mistake in judgment.
  12. Sandusky should be given the maximum sentence possible for his crimes.
  13. Nittany Lion football is a way of life in Pennsylvania, and that way of life should not be destroyed because of one man’s alleged crimes.
  14. Penn State should not be blamed for Sandusky’s alleged crimes because he no longer works at Penn State.

[photo: 2010 Penn State vs Michigan-10 by Mike Pettigano on Flickr.]


Categories: Argument
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One Response to “Response to a Tragedy”

  1. Jack Solomon, CSUN Says:

    The problem with using this particular topic for an argumentation class is that it could be an encouragement to students to regard argument as the simple expression of an opinion rather than as the outcome of a process of critical thinking. This is because critical thinking requires adequate evidence, an assessment of an entire situation, and the public simply lacks that in this case. When more information is available (especially as the result of a public trial), then it would be possible to apply critical thinking skills to it. At a time when the standards of journalism appear to be slipping, and stories are rushed into “print” before all the facts are in (consider the firing of Shirley Sherrod), we would do well not to appear to teach our students to argue for conclusions before they have enough information.