Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20-30 minutes
This is a good exercise for the opening days of class, one that
helps students to understand what constitutes an academic argument.
Explain to the class that the group needs to define its mission
for the semester: writing academic arguments. To do this, the class
is going to consider how most people talk about arguments--and
what that language reveals about how we think about arguments.
Use the handout below or just ask the questions on the handout
to elicit responses. You can also go around the room and ask each
student to give you one word or phrase in response to the question,
as quickly as possible.
Most of the responses are likely to imply argument as war (I was
invincible/I crushed him/she wouldn't give an inch/she had a lot
of ammunition/my defenses were too strong/etc.). Explain that this
kind of language comes from a notion of argument as a kind of trench
warfare. Discuss how that might shape the ways that people argue:
how should people behave, if argument is war (they think of themselves
as enemies, they have no mercy, they don't want to give in at all
or they will have to surrender and give up all power).
Explain that this is in fact not the kind of argument the class
will be practicing. Instead, academic arguments are much closer
to the kinds of conversations that we all have every day, when
we're trying to persuade people to agree with us (Let's go to Runk
for dinner) or trying to learn what other people think (Which professors
are the best for calculus?). We exchange ideas and try to figure
out the value of other people's reasons and evidence, without much
hostility, trying to anticipate and respond to other people's possible
objections (I know Runk is far away, but the food's pretty good).
Academic arguments are rational (they force us to look for evidence,
and to imagine possible inconsistencies and contradictions); they
help us to form rational communities (in which people's arguments
are respected, if not univerally accepted), and they imagine themselves
in the context a larger, ongoing conversation.
Show clips from "Jerry Springer," "The McLaughlin
Group," PBS' "The News Hour." Ask students to compare
the kinds of arguments they see: how do the people involved deal
with conflict? what do they think the purpose of having an argument
is? how do they attempt to persuade one another? what are their
attitudes towards one another? what do they do when they disagree
with one another strongly? From student responses, develop definitions
of argument as war and academic argument as above.
The Language of Argument
When telling a friend about a job interview in which you have done
well, you might say that you "aced it" or that the interviewers "were
powerless to resist my charm." What sort of language do you
use to tell a friend about your successful arguments?
1. When you've skillfully forwarded and defended an argument, what
are three things you might say that you've done to or with the
I nuked her."
2. If the person you are arguing with won't be swayed by your
reasons or evidence, what are some terms we use to describe that
I built a perfect argument, but Robin dug in her heels."
3. If the person with whom you are arguing forwards slippery assertions
and you rebut them, how do you describe that exchange to a friend?
Sam made some sketchy claims, but I pinned him down."