SOME SUGGESTIONS TO INSTRUCTORS
What is the purpose of a course in the writing of arguments? The arguments which it turns out cannot convince any one, since there is no one for them to convince; so that the immediate and tangible product of the course must be looked on as a by-product, and a by-product from which there can be no salvage.
What products, then, can teachers aim to produce? First, a vital respect for facts and for sound reasoning therefrom; second, the power so to analyze and marshal the facts in an obscure and complicated case as to bring order and light out of confusion; and third, the appreciation of other men’s point of view and training in the tact which will influence them. Incidentally a good course in argumentation should leave with its students an acquaintance with certain effective and economical devices for going to work that should serve them well in later life.
I will take up each of these points in order, and speak of a few methods which I have found useful in practice.
In the first place, how can a teacher establish and strengthen the veneration for fact and the suspicion of all unsupported assertion and a priori reasoning? Partly by judicious exercises, partly by quiet guidance in the choice of subjects. Let a class cross-examine each other on their exact knowledge of the ultimate facts on some familiar subject. On the question of the value of Latin, for example, just how many of the class know no Latin? In a piece of their own writing, how many of the words are derived from the Latin? and what kind of words are they? Of the leaders in scholarship in the class how many know Latin? Of the best writers? Of the authors whose works they are studying in English literature, how many were trained in Latin? Of the authors of the textbooks in science how many? A few such questions as these will suggest others; and the members of the class should keep a record of how many such questions they can answer with precision. Very few people have any exact command of facts on subjects about which they talk freely and with authority; and a young man who has had this truth borne in on him by personal examination will come to writing an argument with more modesty and scrupulousness.
Then a class can be guided away from the large subjects where of necessity their knowledge of facts is second-hand, and in which their arguments, being of necessity short, can touch only the surface of the subject. Here, I think, is where much of the ineffectiveness of courses in argument is to be found. “Judges should be elected by direct vote of the people,” “The right of suffrage should be limited by an educational test,” “Corporations engaged in interstate commerce should be required to take out a federal license,” are samples of propositions recommended as subjects for arguments of two thousand words or