Shaping Arguments: Thinking Like an Architect
APPROACHING THE TOPIC
As simple as it sounds, the three essential components to an argument are the beginning, the middle, and the end. Every student can probably recite this litany. However, unless each of these components is executed fully and achieves its purpose, an essay will feel incomplete, truncated, or misshapen.
In the introduction, students should know that it is here that their topic is introduced. Also, here they should establish their particular appeal, whether to readers’ reason, emotions, or sense of ethics—or some combination. Finally, and most importantly in the introduction, the writer identifies his or her position on the topic. In the middle of the argument, the writer may accomplish all or most of these steps: provide background information, respond to other points of view, present reasons in support of his or her claim, and anticipate possible objections to reasons. At the argument’s end, the writer summarizes the argument and reasserts its claim.
To reinforce these ideas, one strategy is to bring in a few sample arguments from the editorial pages of different newspapers and magazines. Pass out photocopies of different introductions to the class and have students discuss the different strategies the authors employed to begin their arguments. Which were most effective, and why? Which were least effective, and why? Do the same with the authors’ conclusions and have the class discuss which were most and least effective and why.
Next, have students consider the middle of the essay, those core paragraphs which provide the background information. Have them consider why the issue is significant, how people are affected by it, who in particular would be most affected, the factors that have caused the problem or situation to develop, and the consequences if the situation is not corrected. Although this will be handled in the next chapter in more detail, have students examine the evidence, the supporting facts, statistics, or other hard information that readers need in order to follow the authors’ reasoning. Furthermore, have students evaluate the terminology and tone of the presentation. Were these effective? Persuasive?
Although there are many different kinds of arguments, in this text we address two basic types: the position and the proposal. In a position argument, the writer addresses the ethical or moral aspects of a controversy and writes an argument designed to change the audience’s feelings or positions about an issue. A position argument does not offer the solution. Rather, it tries to persuade the audience that a problem—one not seen or understood—exists. In a proposal argument, the writer not only identifies a problem but also recommends a solution that will result in real change.
To best illustrate these basic types of argument—or a combination of the two—have students collect sample arguments from the Internet, books, newspapers and magazines and have them try to classify their findings according to these basic categories or a combination of the two.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
BRING EAST BRIDGEWATER ELEMENTARY INTO THE WORLD AMANDA COLLINS
- Collins identifies the problem in her second paragraph, making the claim that schools that do not offer foreign language instruction are a disadvantage to students. However, while Amanda offers data from Europe to demonstrate that there is a wide disparity between language instruction in European elementary schools and American schools, students may not necessarily agree that she proves that the problem is significant. Amanda does explain why she feels that the lack of language instruction negatively affects young students, but doesn’t prove that American graduates fail to compete in a global
- Collins proposes in the section titled “Optimal Solution for East Bridgewater” (paragraph 12) that the school system adopt some version of the Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program.
- Collins identifies the problem as lack of language instruction—a problem she feels would be solved with the implementation of the FLES program. However, beyond fundraising for the program (“Optimal Solution for East Bridgewater”), she does not explain concretely how the program will overcome the financial obstacles it will certainly face. The solution cannot be proven without being actually tried, and Collins skips this part of the discussion. She does provide detailed information on how the program works, but the issue may require further proof.
- Much of Collins’ essay assumes that her readers will agree with her viewpoint. There are several objections or questions readers could raise that she fails to address. 1) While foreign language instruction is indeed more common in Europe, where many languages are spoken in a relatively small area, is it necessary for the United States? 2) Parents may not agree that children must learn a foreign language at an early age in addition to math and science. 3) Globalization does not necessarily mean that Americans need to know more languages. 4) While the study “Exploring the Economics of Language,” reports that multi-lingual countries have a competitive edge, one could argue that economically, Americans seem to be doing okay. 5) What happens if fundraising fails to raise revenue?
- Collins does not mention any other programs to solve the foreign language instruction deficit at East Bridgewater Elementary.
- Overall, Collins may come across as reasonable, but somewhat biased and a little arrogant. For example, when she wonders why parents aren’t “outraged” that their children aren’t receiving language instruction, she inadvertently insults their ability to make judgments regarding their children’s academic programs.
ANSWERS TO CHAPTER END EXERCISES
Questions 1–8: Students’ answers will vary, for this section, but encourage students to think about the relationship between what they say and the order in which they say it. Why is structure important? In what ways can it make or break an argument? Can they think of examples of times where they found themselves distrusting a source because of the way an argument was framed?