The Warrants of Melrose Place/Raging River


Warrants
Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 30+ minutes

This activity tends to be a hit with students, who find the subject matter vaguely racy, and who find themselves working with warrants quite naturally.
 
To do:
On the board, draw a picture like this one, with four cabins, one canoe, and a river in the middle. (Surely, yours will be prettier.)
 
..............................................~~~................................................
..............+ \_/.............................~~~....................+..................
.......Alex's cabin and canoe........~~~............Chris' cabin..
.......................................................~~~.......................................
...................................................~~~..<--.raging river!.............
..............................................~~~................................................
............. +............................~~~....................... +...................
.........Bobby's cabin.........~~~....................Dale's cabin.......
 
Tell this story: One day, Robin is on the side of the river where Alex and Bobby live. Chris is expected by Robin that night; the only way to cross the river is by boat. When Robin asks Alex to borrow Alex's boat, Alex says, "If you sleep with me, you can borrow the boat." Robin goes to Bobby, explains what has happened, and asks Bobby for help convincing Alex to lend Robin the boat. Bobby refuses. The next morning, Alex loans Robin the boat. Robin goes to Chris and explains the late arrival. Chris is furious and throws Robin out; Danny takes Robin in.
 
Then, put students into groups of 3; ask them to rank the characters from least moral to most moral. After a few minutes, put the rankings on the board, and ask students to explain their decisions in a sentence or two. (You might use LRS language here: "So your claim is that Bobby is the least moral; can you tell us one reason why you think that?") If all of the groups have the same rankings, put up an alternative.
 
Next, ask groups to try to persuade another group to change its mind. The first step will be to identify their own warrants, and the warrants that have motivated the other group (for example, "if you refuse to help solve a problem/right a wrong, then you are worse than the person who caused the problem.") The next step is to try to generate reasons that work from the other group's warrant, or from some third, shared warrant.
 
Share results; see if the groups can persuade one another.
 
Then, if no one has already done so, tease out alternative possibilities to the story: Maybe when Alex says "sleep with," Alex really means sleep, not sex (because Alex is lonely or it's cold and the heater broke, or Alex has a spare bedroom). Maybe it's just too dangerous to cross the river at night. Maybe Bobby won't get involved because Bobby already knows that it's too dangerous to cross at night. Maybe Chris is furious not because of sexual jealousy, but because Robin needed to bring a business report across the river so that it could be faxed to a client. Maybe Dale took Robin in out of self-interest; Dale's competing firm wanted the report.
 
See if anyone is swayed by these alternative explanations. If they aren't, point out that our claims/arguments aren't always driven by logic. We all make assumptions, even when we have relatively little evidence, because we are driven by warrants about how the world works (for example, "people are more likely to get upset about disappointed romances than about business losses"). Until we can identify those warrants, and generate claims and reasons on the basis of shared warrants, it's difficult to get people to change their minds.