Chapter Ten: Argument and Persuasion
Some instructors devote a great deal of class time to explaining the principles and uses of induction and deduction, drilling their students with sample syllogisms and designing in-class exercises to illustrate, test for, and correct logical fallacies that appear in popular writing. While students often find such activities
interesting, their contribution to the improvement of writing has been questioned by composition theorists.
On the other hand, students can profit from discussing the distinction between formal argument and persuasion, as discussed in the introduction to Chapter Ten. You can begin by explaining that both are legitimate forms of argumentation and that, while considered different activities, they are often found in the same piece of writing, the author using a variety of techniques and approaches to achieve a single end. You many then wish to discuss such techniques briefly and to explain various approaches students can use in their
Typical elements of argument include an appeal to logic, often with logical sequences such as syllogisms; a balanced consideration of opposing opinions and facts; and a move toward general precepts rather than specific cases. In addition, the tone of argument is usually calm and objective-sounding. Typical elements of
persuasive works include an appeal to emotions; a biased perspective, often omitting opposing opinions and facts; and the use of anecdotal evidence; personal experience, and specific cases in place of statistics or general precepts.
Of course, analyzing this chapter's selections in detail and carefully addressing the Questions for Discussion accompanying them will give students an even better grasp of strategies useful to proving a point or persuading a reader to act. Indeed, no amount of theorizing can take the place of discussing successful approaches to argumentation as demonstrated by the authors who use them.
Most importantly, students should realize that an essential ingredient in any successful argumentative or persuasive paper is a command of the facts. As such, encouraging a reliance on library research to gather information for this kind of work usually proves fruitful. In fact, some instructors like to combine the research
paper and argumentation projects into one writing assignment.
This chapter offers several good essays with which to launch classroom discussion. Under Argumentation, essays have been paired to present two views-often contrasting-of one subject. The most immediately interesting to students might be Hentoff's "Should This Student Have Been Expelled?" which appears with Dershowitz's "Shouting 'Fire!'" and Kaminer's "Virtual Rape." The essays by Hentoff and Kaminer touch on issues close to student's lives and should generate heated discussion; however, the essays on welfare reform and rape also stir up lively discussion, and they can inspire fine student writing.
The essays under Persuasion are all accessible, some more than others. The easiest to discuss in class is Brady's "Why I Want a Wife," which is both short and controversial, even after many years. King's "I Have a Dream" is an important
intellectual and cultural document. King's writing style and use of metaphor provide reason enough to study this speech in meticulous detail.
Writing from personal experience, Dickerson and Nye make emotional pleas for social and legal justice. In "Bilingual Education: Outdated and Unrealistic," master essayist Richard Rodriguez makes a case for an important change in our educational system. If you don't have time to cover these two essays in class, make sure that students read them and respond to them via the items under Engaging the Text.
One of the selections that best combines argumentative and persuasive techniques is Swift's "A Modest Proposal." You will need to provide historical and intellectual background; you might even need to explain Swift's irony. But don't shrink from this one. It never fails to arouse interest, and it often inspires
students to write their own "modest proposals." In addition, it provides ample opportunity to compare Swift's purpose, voice, and theme with what we see in other essays addressing social problems, particularly those by Ehrenreich, Hardin, Dickerson, and Rodriguez.
Welfare Reform Barbara Ehrenreich: A Step Back to the Workhouse? Questions for Discussion Many of the questions aim at getting the students to paraphrase Ehrenreich's argument, and these are a good place to start since most students will probably have strong opinions of their own about the issue of welfare. You might start with question b, and follow it up with asking students to write a summary or paraphrase of the entire essay. Question b can be supplemented by questions of strategy; f, g, h, and i work well to get the students to see not only what she says
but how she says it. Alongside their summaries or paraphrases of the essay, students could also write a summary of their own opinions or can do item a under Suggestions for Short Writing. You can expand Question b by asking students to list all of Ehrenreich's supporting points; students could then annotate the list with questions or counter arguments.
Engaging the Text Item a can be used as part of class discussion, as mentioned above, or can be used as a pre-writing exercise for a longer paper, such as assignment a for sustained writing. Item b can be included as part of a or can be used as a journal prompt before a class discussion.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing For item c students could bring in an editorial from one of that week's newspapers, or you could bring in (or even write) one of your own choosing. The latter idea may work best if your students need to practice writing an editorial-writing drafts, getting feedback, and revising, all of which will take time. After they have written one supervised editorial, you can ask them to bring in another editorial or article that they strongly agree or disagree with and write
another editorial, which they will actually send to a local newspaper.
Item b requires students to consider the ideological underpinnings of each of the writers-i.e., not only what they say but how and why. A detailed analysis might not be possible or even desirable for your students; however, they will need to consider this in order to find a solution that will satisfy all eight of the writers included in this selection. One way to begin this would be to ask students to
speculate about the solutions that each of the seven respondents might propose.
The prompts for Engaging the Text will work well as preliminary writing for
Garrett Hardin: Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor Questions for Discussion If students have read and discussed Dershowitz's "Shouting 'Fire!'," you can begin discussion by asking whether the analogy of the Earth as a lifeboat and as a spaceship are valid or not (questions c, d, and h). Responding to these questions first will allow students to have a clearer sense of where they each stand in
relation to Hardin's position. If they see the Earth-as-lifeboat analogy as problematic, as many of them will, you can then ask them to explain why it is problematic and begin to construct their own counter arguments to Hardin.
Use of pronouns (j), statistics (i), and questions (g) will begin to be seen as the persuasive techniques they are once students begin to question the lifeboat analogy. If students come up with several unasked questions for question g, these questions could become the basis for a counter-argument essay.
Engaging the Text Suggestion a can help students begin to see their college education as a web of related disciplines, rather than as a hodge-podge of isolated courses. Students could use this prompt as the first in a journal kept over two or more weeks in which they reflect on some of the connections they see among their courses. Suggestion b can also be done as a letter to Hardin.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing The first suggestion will get out of hand unless students limit their topic, research question, or number of sources. One way to handle this assignment is make it a collaborative project and/or to divide the project into a series of smaller, linked papers throughout the term.
With Suggestion b students should, of course, be cautioned to find metaphors that make logical sense. For Suggestion c, students could use their letter to Hardin (item b under Engaging the Text) as a draft.
Jonathan Kozol: The Details of Life Questions for Discussion The questions for discussing content are mostly concerned with getting students to summarize and understand Kozol's argument. His use of narrative to illustrate his argument may lead students to think that his argument is simple, when it is, in fact, quite complex. Questions a - e should help them see the complexity and start to make sense of it. Questions for strategy and style will help students understand how Kozol fashions that argument.
Engaging the Text Answering questions a - e, above, will help students write the summary for item a. For item b, encourage students to think of real-life, current situations where money spent for the public's benefit has had to be justified economically. If you are teaching this article in an election year, students should have no trouble
finding such situations.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing For Suggestion a, other programs, besides reading programs, could include school lunch programs, education funding, recreation programs, or transportation programs. To do this assignment well, students could use actual proposals or programs as models; many of these documents can be found on government or organization web sites. Suggestion a can also be used as preliminary writing for Suggestion c. Students could write their essay for Suggestion b as a script, using actual quotes from the essays and writing new dialogue as needed. Incorporating quotes might be an entertaining way for students to learn how to cite sources.
Free Speech Nat Hentoff: Should This Student Have Been Expelled? Questions for Discussion Combining question k with question a will help students visualize the structure of Hentoff's well argued position. Outlining will also help them shape their own arguments. You may also want to ask students to use two columns to list Gregorian's points and Hentoff's counter points. This will help them to answer Questions c, d, h, j, and m.
Because it is so clearly structured, this essay creates an opportunity for staging an in-class debate. Students can role-play, taking Hentoff's or Gregorian's sides and extending their arguments. Or they can debate on another topic-let them choose one from controversial current issues.
Engaging the Text Suggestion a leads directly into the first suggestion under Sustained Writing. Indeed, short writing a should be required as preliminary writing for that assignment since it teaches students editorial form. Suggestion b can be used as preliminary writing for a sustained essay.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Most students find editorial writing very difficult, in part because they are not accustomed to writing such concise and tightly logical arguments, but also because most students do not read editorials. To do Suggestion a well, then, students should read and analyze the structure of several editorials before beginning their own. In addition, you could bring models in to class to discuss on overheads.
Suggestion b is a rhetorical analysis; students will need to be taught how to do such analyses before they take on this assignment. Suggestion c is a wonderful assignment for doing primary research, particularly interviews and polls. This assignment can motivate students to move beyond the typical research paper that
relies on library or Internet sources.
Alan M. Dershowitz: Shouting "Fire!" Questions for Discussion Questions b and c can be used to start a discussion about what makes
an analogy false or valid. These questions, connected to Question d,
will help students make those distinctions before they write their
Question f is important, but students may be hard pressed to answer it satisfactorily. Point them to paragraph 12 where Dershowitz says that he has been collecting examples of the false analogy for years, and maintains that it has repeated use as an "absolute argument-stopper." He obviously sees the "shouting
'fire!'" analogy as insidious, made more so by its image of being a logical, valid analogy.
Engaging the Text The first suggestion could be expanded by having students write their
own definitions of "free speech" and "censorship," and comparing them to those of Dershowitz. Ask students to write their own definitions in class, where they will not be able to fall back on the standard dictionary definitions.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Remind students that they analogy is a useful strategy for making their points if they choose Suggestion a. Students will be able to do Suggestion c more easily if their essays follow thorough on class discussion on the connections between Dershowitz's essay and their own lives.
Wendy Kaminer: Virtual Rape Questions for Discussion Questions a - c and i aim to get students to define "virtual rape" and other key terms of Kaminer's essay. To augment these questions, you might want to compile a glossary of sorts as class discussion progresses. Questions for strategy f, g, and j ask students to look closely at the essay to see where and how Kaminer switches from analysis to argument, and to consider how subtly a writer can argue by means of analysis.
Engaging the Text For Suggestion a, summarizing both sides of the Maxwell case will prepare students for an in-class debate on the subject. Suggestion b can carry forward to Suggestion b of Sustained Writing. The Engaging the Text prompt asks students to look generally at content, and this can be an effective way to ease them into the more detailed assignment.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing If your students have done a class glossary or have discussed the definition of terms, they will be prepared for Suggestion a. Point out to students that being very specific is a virtue for this assignment. Students should have no trouble finding topics for Suggestion c, as almost any topic connected to computers is a hot topic with many available sources. The most problematic thing about this assignment is the probability that students will use only Internet sources; it would be a good idea to limit the number of allowable Internet sources or to specify a number of online and print sources.
Rape Camille Paglia: Rape and Modern Sex War Questions for Discussion for both Paglia and Jacoby Since Paglia's speeches and publications do not usually conform to a p.c. line, the Questions for Discussion generally ask students to summarize and critique her arguments. Students should do the same thing with Jacoby's essay, on the other end of the political correctness spectrum. Ask your students to define "political
correctness" before discussing with Paglia or Jacoby. To what extent are the writers p.c. according to the definition your students put together? Using the Questions for Discussion for both selections, students should consider the following elements in their definition: how rape is defined, the relationship between feminism and political correctness, attitude toward one's opponents in an argument, examples and support considered appropriate when arguing.
Engaging the Text for both Paglia and Jacoby Item a can be used for preliminary writing for Suggestion b of Sustained Writing. Item b allows student to vent their feelings about Paglia's and Jacoby's essay and emphasizes the importance of backing up opinions with examples.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Use item b, above, as preliminary writing for Suggestion for Sustained Writing a. Just a few of the points that Paglia makes that students might want to write
"But the old clans and small rural communities have broken down."
"We must remedy social justice whenever we can. But there are some things
we cannot change." (paragraph 6)
"The sexes are at war." (paragraph 7)
"College men have just left their mothers and are questing for their male
identity. In groups, they are dangerous." (paragraph 8)
"Aggression and eroticism are deeply intertwined." (paragraph 10)
"Today's young women don't know what they want." (paragraph 12)
"Running to Mommy and Daddy on the campus grievance committee is
unworthy of strong women." (paragraph 15)
For Suggestion b, use Engaging the Text a as preliminary writing. Finding material for Suggestion c will be fairly easy if students use the Internet and online sources such as InfoTrak.
Susan Jacoby: Common Decency Questions for Discussion (See Paglia, above.)
Engaging the Text (See Paglia, above.)
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Use item a under Engaging the Text as preliminary writing for Suggestion a or b. When doing Suggestion c, students need to select specific types or definitions; otherwise, they will find too much information on the subject
Jonathan Swift: A Modest Proposal Questions for Discussion One way to begin discussion is to deal with voice and readership (questions d and h). Discussing who the writer is (his persona) and to whom he is writing can lead to talk about Swift's attitudes toward his readers and his purpose (question a) in writing his modest proposal. The questions about specific details of his text will then be more relevant.
The usual answer to a is paragraph 9 since that is where we first learn what Swift is specifically proposing. However, once we find this out, we can see examples of his satire right from the first paragraph. If your students point to paragraph 9 for question b, have them read the first few paragraphs aloud, asking them to paraphrase the content and to point out any words or phrases they think are satirical.
Engaging the Text Suggestion a can help students who feel intimidated by the archaic language of Swift's essay, by having them begin on familiar ground. In class, you can guide students from these gut reactions to a more intellectual understanding of the essay.
Suggestion b also helps to do this, but has an additional purpose of asking students to think about audience. Students do not have to know Anglo-Irish history to respond to this exercise-they can limit themselves to the information provided by the essay to form an image of the two social classes.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Suggestion a is probably the easiest one for students to do because the topic is a perennial news item. Students could discuss their topics in small groups, brainstorming together to come up with advantages. Both Suggestion b and c can be used for a debate or for a collaborative paper. Divide students into two groups or several sets of opposing groups, with each group taking a side and preparing
arguments. Each group then writes an essay together, taking into consideration the counter arguments they have heard.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream Questions for Discussion King's is an essay of the kind students themselves might want to write. If they do, the questions about King's style may lead to fruitful discussion. Ask students to look at his use of metaphors (question g). To find some of the many metaphors he uses, you need only draw students' attention to the first three paragraphs and ask
them to underline the metaphors they find, such as "seared in the flames" and "joyous daybreak" (paragraph 1); "crippled by the manacles...and the chains," "lonely island of poverty," "languishing in the corners," and "exile" (paragraph 2); and so on. Ask students to describe the images that these metaphors evoke and how the tone and persuasiveness of the essay would be greatly changed if these
metaphors were not there. This question can lead to question i since these metaphors are emotionally charged.
Engaging the Text Both of these suggestions can be used as preliminary writing for Suggestion for Sustained Writing a. They can also be used for class discussion if you specify that students just write a paragraph or two in their journals. In this brief writing, they can mainly be concerned with expressing their opinions and not with how to support them.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Once students have done the preliminary writing, above, they can do some follow-up writing in which they include support for their opinions. These writings can then be used as drafts for Suggestions a or b. In coming up with support for their opinions, students should be reminded to consider audience.
You can make suggestion c more manageable by dividing the topic of the history of the Civil Rights movement into smaller sections, with groups of students collaboratively researching and reporting.
Debra Dickerson: Who Shot Johnny? Questions for Discussion This very emotional piece can effectively be compared to Rodriguez' essay. Both take on topics of social justice and challenge erroneous assumptions about race and class; however, Dickerson and Rodriguez have quite different tones. Although they both appeal to the emotions, Dickerson does so in a more immediate and personal way, whereas Rodriguez does so calmly, almost distantly at times. Both writers are angry, but they show their anger to different degrees.
Tone can be addressed with questions a-d and g-i, and the topic of
tone might be a good way to start discussion about Dickerson's essay.
Students will probably want to know whether Dickerson's use of obscenities is appropriate for essay writing. Question i can be used to start talking about when obscene language is and is not appropriate.
Engaging the Text Suggestion a highlights an interesting incongruity in Dickerson's essay, her use of simple, direct words mixed with complex, academic words. Writing about this prompt may force students to look more closely at (perhaps even re-read) the essay. What they should notice is Dickerson's sophisticated rhetoric and craftsmanship; perhaps they will be moved to emulate it. Suggestion b aims to help students step away from the text to see it from a different perspective.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing Although Suggestion b does not explicitly require research, it could easily be made into a research project if students want to find out what others have written about racial stereotyping. Suggestion c will need some guidance from you to help narrow the topic, since "violent crime" can be so broadly defined. Ask
students to find, or write their own, definitions of "violent crime" before they begin this assignment.
Richard Rodriguez: Bilingual Education: Outdated and Unrealistic Questions for Discussion Since this essay's tone sounds so controlled and logical, it might be difficult for students to see the essay as a primarily persuasive piece. Questions d, f, h, i, k, and m can help students identify the persuasive elements of the essay, in particular, Rodriguez' use of anecdotal examples and his own experience. Question m can also lead to a discussion about style and its relation to persuasion. Toward this end, Rodriguez' essay works well in conjunction with "I Have a Dream," with the use of short, emphatic sentences to punctuate ideas and the use of exhortation to the audiences.
Engaging the Text Item a can lead students from looking at the persuasive elements of the essay to looking at its argumentative elements. This prompt is a good set-up for Suggestions for Sustained Writing a and c. If you find that students are more interested in discussing the essay as a persuasive piece, item b can be an effective prompt for either a journal entry or an in-class writing before discussion.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing For item a, use either or both of the Engaging the Text prompts for generating first drafts. Using Suggestion b as a topic for class discussion can generate statements that can then be integrated into the essay for Suggestion c. Students will probably question whether any of these writers would have welcomed or rejected bilingual education for themselves.
Students may need guidance in limiting the topic for Suggestion c. Bilingual education is a popular topic, but so much has already been written about it that students may feel overwhelmed by the sources available. In addition, the topic quickly branches out to several other equally complex topics, such as Ebonics, multiculturalism, and social class. Asking students to limit themselves to one state or even school district and/or one non-English language can help students focus.
Judy Brady: Why I Want a Wife Questions for Discussion Nearly all of the discussion questions have the effect of slowing down class discussion, focusing students' attention to the text itself and how Brady constructs her argument. Dip into these questions if and when class discussion gets too heated, as it might if students start with their gut reactions to the essay.
Engaging the Text If discussion flags, both a and b here can be used to stir it up. Item b can also be used in small groups, with each group taking on one of the four roles (wife, husband, mother, father) to define.
Suggestions for Sustained Writing To do either Suggestion a or b well, students will need to bring in examples to illustrate their claims. If they do not have examples from personal experience, they will need to do some research. If students did item b in Engaging the Text in small groups, Suggestion c can lead to group-written papers. If groups presented
their definitions to other groups during class, this assignment could
become a follow-up presentation.
Naomi Shihab Nye: To Any Would-Be Terrorists Questions for Discussion The key here is to have students articulate the differences between argument and persuasion and then to consider why Nye's essay is primarily persuasion. Because Nye writes on a topic that is currently political and controversial, most students will assume that she is arguing; after all, most political "arguments" are usually
persuasion. You could ask students to bring in examples of such political arguments on the same topic for comparison and analysis.
Engaging the Text Item a gets students to look at the effects that persuasive writing aims to have on readers. After describing their gut reactions, students can consider how they might have reacted if Nye had written a rigidly logical argument. A discussion of item a can then lead to item b. Suggestions for Sustained Writing Suggestion a can be altered to have students write a persuasive piece similar to Nye's in which they make an implicit argument connected to the events of September 11th.
For Suggestion b, students can expand their comparison to one or two of the hundreds of articles written about September 11th. Such articles are easy to find on InfoTrak and on the Internet.
The first suggestion under c is a broad one, and you will need to break it into more manageable topics according to your students' interests. This would be a good assignment for collaborative papers.