Sometimes an argument is like a really good sale. You look at it. You feel it. You are enamored by its flash and pizzazz. In fact, sometimes it looks so good you have a hard time recognizing the snag in the stitching, or the small stain on the lapel, or the poor fit in the bust. Yeah. That’s what happens when we are won over simply by the appearance of it. The flaws are unseen by the common eye. While it pains me to admit it, I am the common eye and always buy the “really good deal, I promise” even if I’ll never wear the dress because color-blocking doesn’t work on my body type.
The same is true with logical fallacies. Sometimes students and adults get so entranced in the words, language, and ideas of an argument that we aren’t able to detach ourselves enough to recognize the flaws that exist. These flaws of poor lining, bad patterns, and high waists is known as the logical fallacy in the world of the reader. And, just like high waisted pants, are a bad idea. Instead of just critiquing, students need to be able to have some foresight to their argument to prevent these fallacies from occurring in their writing. An easy way to start is by recognizing these holes in the arguments of others.
Here @wheretheclassroomends we love the blog Brain Pickings and find any excuse to give their website a plug. Several months ago, we featured videos from Brain Pickings on the various logical fallacies. These are a great way to introduce the terms. My personal favorite in the straw man fallacy—for obvious reasons—I like the name. Consider using these to teach students about the fallacies to look for in writing.
When looking for pieces to examine for logical fallacies an excellent place to start is something many of us check daily: Groupon, Living Social, or YouSwoop. These companies make a living out of pithy dialogue that persuades people to buy things they don’t need. As a result their writing is usually entertaining to read but also rife with holes to their argument. After educating students about the different fallacies that are commonly seen provide them with a “daily special” and ask them to pull out as many holes or errors as possible.
To help students better understand how best to avoid fallacies in their own argument have them study a political speech. It could be a classic, like Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, or a common, average, contemporary piece, like a stump speech from a campaign trail. Ask students to pretend they are speechwriters. Their job is to listen to a speech prepared for the politician. However, instead of just asking them to recognize the fallacies that exist within the argument encourage them to go beyond and revise the speech to eliminate the flaws. Not only does this strengthen their knowledge of logical fallacies, it also helps them uncover creative ways to resolve the issues, which will hopefully manifest into their own writing.
When it comes to analyzing an argument encourage your students to go beyond the fancy words and to not be sold on appearances alone. Like any big sale, ask them to detach themselves from the trance and really consider what is being argued. Having them recognize the flaws to the argument will make them more well rounded when it comes to writing their own persuasive essays. It might even make them better shoppers as well.