Beyond facts and statistics: Restoring order to how we understand logos in writing
This resource aims to generate ideas and possibilities about how to advance student understanding of logic in writing beyond the notion that logic is always a collection of data points or a reference to facts. Instead of reducing logic to numbers and statements, this source hopes to introduce students and teachers to the existential questions that are always involved in the logical appeals of a text: how do we know what we know and why does it matter?
Introducing vocabulary and elaborating on how logic functions within a text
How I think about, examine, discuss, and, ultimately, teach logos within the classroom has drastically changed over my teaching career. In the beginning, I pretty much told students to look for statistics or facts, but now I think that was reductive and didn't really challenge them to think about the structure of text in a critical manner. I wasn't asking them to think about how writers begin with the end in mind. I wasn't asking them to consider the ideas that precede a piece of writing or the a speech's delivery. Everything I was doing with logos was rather shortsighted, and logos, because it involves the notion of order, is never shortsighted and by its very presence in all writing is there for the long haul. Reason isn't statistics--it outlasts statistics.
I spend a great deal of time now in AP and general education classes introducing students to the following terms:
- Deduction, syllogism, principle, assumption, enthymeme, premise, conclusion
- Induction, empiricism, evidence, backing, warrant, qualifier, reservation, claim
- Validity and soundness.
- Here is a helpful video detailing the difference between Inductive and Deductive reasoing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAjkQ1YqLEE
Sometimes I give these terms out all at once. Sometimes I disperse them like breadcrumbs. Some years I have thought it would be better to do the former, and other years I have thought it would have been better to do the latter. And, as probably should be expected, this task is much easier in AP classes. However, in AP classes, I also hold them to mastering these concepts and being fluent in them as opposed to simply being introduced to them.
What I find most important here is that students come away understanding that there is a top-down (deductive) way of seeing the world that is very much in line with how mathematics and religion tend to function and believe as well as a bottom-up (inductive) way of understanding the world that is very much how science, memoirs, and research-based writing tend to grapple with what might be true. The former often (but not always) moves towards or with more certainty. Meanwhile, the latter often moves towards or with a more questioning tone. What looks for answers (X is . . . .) while the other suggests possibilities (X is most likely . . . .).
With AP students, I think it is important for them to often file writers into categories: so and so is inductive in her approach while so and so is deductive in his. Admittedly, though, students and I find that some writers are both deductive and inductive and that such a blending of the approaches is often quite necessary. I probably should work on having general education students do the same.
I believe most teachers feel fairly comfortable with introducing vocabulary to students, and everyone has personal preferences as to what are the best practices for doing so with the particular groups of students gathered into a classroom, so this section will end simply with some ideas on how to familiarize students with the previously bulleted terms. Many of these activities could be completed by individual students or small groups. They are all lowrisk assignments/assessments.
- After students have been given or looked up definitions to the bulleted terms, have them complete a sorting activity where they separate the terms into groups. Start by asking for students to sort the terms into four or five categories. Have them title those categories. Then have them combing the four or five categories into three or four categories. Have them retitle the new categories to account for the changes. Then have them sort the terms into two categories and retitle them once more.
- Give students index cars. Have them create a valid syllogism one side and an invalid syllogism on the other. Collect these cards or have students swap cards with other students and attempt to explain the validity or invalidity of a given syllogism. Students could also be asked to create syllogisms that are valid but not sound or sound but not valid. The main idea here is to have them seeing that logic is something of a game that can be manipulated or twisted beyond being practical. Feel free to conclude the creation of syllogisms by introducing them to the terms apriori and aposteriori and attempting to apply them to their syllogisms.
- Have students use inductive terminology to argue for why an umbrella might be necessary today or why an individual should eat breakfast. Then see if they can craft deductive arguments (opinions) for these same behaviors and activities. Ask them to decipher whether the inductive or deductive lines of reasoning might have a broader or narrower audience. Ask them which line of reasoning might be more universally accepted or rejected and by whom. The idea here is to have students start to understand that certain audience may be more willing to accept or reject deductive and inductive lines of reasoning based off previously held values, beliefs, and experiences.
The canon of arrangement
When teaching rhetoric, introduce students to Aristotle's classic outline for oration: exordium, narration, division, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion. Most speeches and letters tend to follow this outline. Once students are familiar with it, they should be able to discusses how the order of a speech, letter, or essay functions not just as a whole but as individual parts that answer to each preceding part and set the table for each successive part.
- Exordium: The beginning or introductory part, especially of a discourse or treatise.
- Narration: a report of related events presented to listeners or readers, in words arranged in a logical sequence. The story being told.
- Division: The part of a speech in which an orator outlines the key points and overall structure of the speech. Think of this as a concious aknowledgement of the outline of your essay.
- Confirmation: The main part of a speech or text in which logical arguments in support of a position (or claim) are elaborated. We can associate this with the pattern of evidence and analysis present in our body paragraphs.
- Refutation: The part of an argument where a speaker or a writer encounters contradicting points of view. Alternatively, refutation can be described as the negation of an argument, opinion, testimony, doctrine, or theory, through contradicting evidence. You may think of these as counter points.
- Conclusion: The final message that you leave your reader with.
Great resources for working with the canon of arrangement are the readings to be found in all the different versions of Samuel Cohen's 50 Essays, presidential speeches archived at the University of Virginia's The Miller Center, and any other anthology that of speeches and argumentation that spans multiple decades and centuries.
- Have students practice informally splitting essays and speeches into parts when annotating.
- Cut essays and speeches into pieces and have students arrange the "puzzle pieces" into an order they feel they can justify. The concern here isn't that they do what the original author did, but that they are able to justify what they did.
- Have students fill out arrangement charts.
- Have students give a purpose to each part they find in a given text.
- Have students write papers and speeches with Aristotle's outline.
- Have students disect documentary structures.
- Have students revise and rewrite past in-class writings so that they now consist of all the traditional aspects of Aristotle's arrangement.
- If students are keeping a journal during the year, have them occasionally journal about a given text's structure. Where did it transition? What questions did such transitions anticipate and answer? How did the order of the text function in order to achieve a particular purpose or understanding?
Crime scenes, science, and epiphanies: Logos in a variety of texts
Once students are familiar with the terminology and basic outlines of deductive and inductive arguments, they need to start identifying, describing, and assessing the effectiveness of such reasoning in a variety of texts. Below is a list of specific books, passages, and general resources I've given students to practice these kinds of skills. The list does not by any means include everything.
Any book, news article, film, or passage where clues are found and examined is ripe for discussing how logic functions in a text and therefore in the world.
- The scene where the murders in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood are discovered or any of the scenes where the process of the investigation are discussed work well for this sort of thing
- David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI explore how investigations do and do not work.
- The last passage in Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is full of clues and rumors and great for discussing the reasonable and unreasonable conclusions people draw when faced with physical clues and superstition.
- Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History treats the whole planet like a crime scene.
Science and Journalism
- Pedro G. Ferreira's The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity ccontains some great passages, especially in the early going, that depict the key differences between how mathematics and physics describe the universe. In fact, reading about physics in an English classroom can bring about some incredible interdisplinary understandings that often are overlooked or neglected.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me
- Kristen Green's Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle
- Anything by Elizabeth Kolbert (in addition to The Sixth Extinction her book Field Notes on a Catastrophe is great for this sort of thing)
- Anything in Time Magazine, The New Yorker, or the like that involves on-the-ground investigations and observations that call into question conventional wisdom and understandings
- Many of the College Board AP prompts really revolve around this issue of how do we know which is central to understanding and analyzing how logos functions within a text
Epiphanies in fiction
- There is a question of logic and how deductive principles can unravel, collapse, fall apart in the works of Cormac McCarthy, specifically in his books All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men.
- Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye questions to great extent the principles and logic of a society founded on race.
- Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an experiment in logos
- Keep in mind that changes in a character's world view are usually related to new experiences and discoveries, which means that the processes of deduction and induction can be discussed in relation to the self.