Archive for the ‘Argument’ Category

Horizontal divider

Beyond Our Classrooms

posted: 5.8.15 by Donna Winchell

All teachers hope that their students will make use of the knowledge and skills taught in their courses–in spite of the students’ protestations that “I’ll never use this after the class ends!” One example from a writing course:  “I’ll have a secretary to catch grammar and punctuation errors for me.” I must admit that I don’t see either of my sons ever using the advanced math they were learning by the end of high school. But as teachers of writing, we can rest assured that more of our students will make use of the skills we teach than will ever make use of imaginary numbers. As teachers of critical thinking, our hope is that all of them will take that skill out into the world and put it to use as workers, voters, parents, community members, and just as people alive in the world. [read more]

Comments Off on Beyond Our Classrooms
Categories: Argument, Critical Thinking, Donna Winchell
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

Teaching the Tensions

posted: 1.30.15 by Donna Winchell

The last few weeks have seen two threats to freedom of speech that have generated international attention. The first was North Korea’s threats against Sony if the movie The Interview was released because the comedy was about the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Although the threats were enough to delay the release, within days the movie opened peacefully nationwide and was soon available on demand. It may have been only a movie—and a mediocre one at best—but it was a matter of principle. Threats to freedom of speech became much more serious with the massacre of twelve journalists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo following the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed. They may have been only cartoons, but twelve people died for the right to publish them, and hundreds of thousands marched in support of that right. [read more]

Comments Off on Teaching the Tensions
Categories: Argument, Critical Thinking, Discussion, Donna Winchell
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

Humor as Rhetoric

posted: 5.4.12 by Donna Winchell

For those who like political humor, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a highlight of the year. Members of the media themselves have labeled it a prom for nerds. A friend of mine in communications refers to it as  “the one time all year that I DVR something on C-SPAN.” The bar is set higher each year as the President has to deliver a string of one-liners worthy of a stand-up comedian, and the stakes are even higher in an election year. Whether Obama outperformed Jimmy Kimmel this year or not, he played to his audiences.

[read more]

Comments Off on Humor as Rhetoric
Categories: Argument, Rhetorical Situation
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

The Uses of Visual Argument

posted: 4.27.12 by Donna Winchell

A look at composition textbooks these days shows how much the business of teaching writing has moved toward a teaching of the visual. Certainly in this day of sound bites and multimedia, the educated consumer has to be able to read a visual argument as well as a written one. The Trayvon Martin case brought this home in a powerful way when almost overnight the hoodie became a visual symbol of solidarity with the Martin family and others who saw Martin’s death as a hate crime. I’ve been trying to remember the last time I saw a symbol take hold so quickly and so widely.

I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to use the first pictures released of Martin and his shooter Zimmerman to slant the public’s perception of the two, but it certainly played out that way. The earliest pictures of Martin that the public saw showed him several years before his death—a little boy, really, in a football uniform. The one of Zimmerman that was reprinted in those first few days looked like a mug shot rather than like the much neater man who turned himself in to the police. It will be hard for prospective jurors to get those images out of their minds. [read more]

Comments Off on The Uses of Visual Argument
Categories: Argument, Visual Argument
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

Online Ethos

posted: 3.22.12 by Donna Winchell

217373332_54323d6ffc_mAny student who uses social networking media should sit up and take notice of the trial of Rutgers student Dharun Ravi, especially any student–or anyone else–who has ever posted online pictures of someone without that person’s permission. Ravi’s trial ended last week when he was found guilty on the charge of violating his roommate’s privacy and on at least one count of bias intimidation. The case has been widely publicized. Ravi secretly used a Web cam to record his roommate Tyler Clementi’s sexual encounter with an older man in their dorm room and shared it via social media with others.

Clementi’s sexual orientation was known to his family and close friends, but after Ravi’s Webcam video put it on display before a larger audience, he went into New York City and committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge. Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi’s death, but had Clementi not resorted to suicide, the case might never have made it to court. It was the trial balloon for a recent New Jersey law that doubles the sentence if the violation of privacy is found to be motivated by hate. It could double Ravi’s sentence from five to ten years. [read more]

Comments Off on Online Ethos
Categories: Argument
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

The Power of Public Outcry

posted: 2.10.12 by Donna Winchell

How could anyone disapprove of Susan G. Komen for the Cure? What more noble cause than an attempt to “save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures” for breast cancer, to borrow language from the organization’s Web site? Behind the pink visors, t-shirts, and headscarves is the moving story of how Nancy Brinker made a promise to her dying sister to do everything in her power to end breast cancer, and since 1982 the nonprofit Komen Foundation has invested more than $1.9 billion in the cause.

What’s not to like?

In January, a lot of people found something very specific to dislike when the Komen Foundation withdrew funding for mammograms from Planned Parenthood. There was an outcry in the news media and the social media as people threatened to—and did—withdraw their support from Komen. The outspoken critics were heard, and early this month the Komen Foundation reversed it decision, and founder and CEO Brinker issued a statement apologizing to the American public “for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.” She explained that the funds were withdrawn not for political reasons—i.e., because Planned Parenthood provides abortions—but because the organization is under investigation by a Republican congressman to see if tax money is used to fund the abortions. Komen’s new policy is to withhold grant money only if an organization’s investigation is “criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.” [read more]

Comments Off on The Power of Public Outcry
Categories: Argument
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

Ethos and Politics

posted: 1.13.12 by Donna Winchell

Aristotle knew centuries ago the political power of ethos or ethical appeal. He knew the power of a good man speaking but also the power of impropriety or immorality to draw attention from a man’s words or ideas. It’s hard for logical appeal to overcome a bad reputation, and there is no better time to see this principle illustrated than during a presidential campaign. According to the official Monticello Web site,  as early as 1802, an unsuccessful and disgruntled office seeker published charges that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave Sally Hemings. Although the truth3276256609_6e99895b20_m of that allegation has been the subject of debate for over two hundred years, it doesn’t seem to have hurt Jefferson’s reputation—then or now. Jefferson simply refused to respond. In our world of DNA testing and Internet research, it’s harder to hide skeletons, and simply refusing to respond is taken as an admission of guilt. Reporters might have looked the other way in the face of John F. Kennedy’s indiscretions, but now digging up the dirt on politicians seems to be part of the job. [read more]

Comments Off on Ethos and Politics
Categories: Argument
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

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! [read more]

Comments: (1)
Categories: Argument
Read All Donna Winchell

Horizontal divider

Arguing with Myself

posted: 11.18.11 by archived

After nearly ten years of teaching composition, it’s depressing to find myself struggling with the many of the same issues semester after semester. Right now the issue is how best to handle argument. I’m not sure whether it’s my temperamental aversion to conflict or my creative writing background, but I chafe against the contention that all academic writing is (or should be) argumentative; at the same time, I do feel an obligation to “teach argument,” whatever I mean by that. I (sort of) know what I want out of student arguments, but there seems to be a yawning gap between what I’d like to see and what students are able to produce.

Here’s what I’d like students to do:

  • Engage with a topic about which they do not already hold a committed position.
  • Take on a fresh topic or offer a fresh perspective on a familiar topic.
  • Consider (in an open-minded, believing-and-doubting way) opposing viewpoints.
  • Recognize the limits of their own authority and the necessity for various sorts of evidence.
  • Understand something of the context and implications of their chosen issue.

As I pause to look over these goals, I notice that they involve not the actual drafting process and structure of the argument, but rather the thinking processes that occur before and during research. I remind myself that students’ development as writers and thinkers (if one can separate the two roles) is ongoing. I fully recognize the limitations my students face (as do we all) in terms of time and curiosity and investment in a course that for many is merely a requirement they must reluctantly hurdle. So are my goals foolishly ambitious? Should I settle for introducing students “merely” to the form that academic argument takes, with its thesis statement neatly shoe-horned into the end of the first paragraph, the skeleton of its reasoning laid out in clear topic sentences, its in-text citations conforming to some officially sanctioned format? [read more]

Comments Off on Arguing with Myself
Categories: Argument, Holly Pappas
Read All archived

Horizontal divider

Rushing to Judgment

posted: 11.11.11 by Donna Winchell

3377783984_6a2cde6a79_mThe quality of news reporting began going downhill the day the first news network started broadcasting twenty-four hours a day. Let me rephrase that: the quality of commentary on the news began going downhill when someone had to keep talking about it twenty-four hours a day. However, in asking students to look at the headlines as subjects for argumentation, I am in danger of rushing the process and leading them to do what I see news commentators doing all the time: conducting some of their research on camera.

Think about it. A prominent and respected judge is suddenly revealed on YouTube to have beaten his sixteen-year-old daughter with a belt seven years ago. Was it illegal? Can he be prosecuted seven years after the fact? Cue the first lawyer or judge that CNN or Fox can get in front of the camera. This is research in the era of twenty-four-hour-a-day news. Not that these guests do not know the law. They can tell us that a law does not apply to a child over the age of fourteen. They can tell us a law has changed in the last seven years. They can discuss statutes of limitations. The smartest one, though, says that none of these laws can be applied to this specific case until the tape is examined to see if it is authentic. The daughter speaks on camera, as do the father and the mother. Lots of information bombards the viewer who has the time to watch hours of news. It becomes easy to rush to judgment. [read more]

Comments Off on Rushing to Judgment
Categories: Argument
Read All Donna Winchell