Responding to Kearney students

20 11 2006

I have been receiving a lot of correspondence from the good students of Kearney in defence of their history teacher, Mr P. (I suppose they have been following the link from Jim Lippard’s blog; and it’s a good thing for them that I have a “Recent Comments” widget installed on my sidebar–otherwise, given the fact that blogs are regularly updated and older posts tend to get pushed off the page eventually, their protestations might have gone unnoticed.) Their comments demonstrate, if anything, an enviable degree of teacher-student rapport (from a teaching graduate’s point-of-view); and it could be suggested that, for all his flaws, Mr P must have some redeeming qualities as an educator.

Two other inferences might be drawn from the Kearney students’ comments, however. First, their emotional attachment to their teacher is such that it has clouded their judgment regarding the matter of Mr P’s error. Second, the arguments they put forth evince a lack of development in their primary reasoning skills–perhaps not altogether unexpected, given their age, but still a matter of concern. Let me make my contribution to setting these kids back on the road to the level of cognitive maturity demonstrated by at least one of their number, Matthew La Clair, by giving them a walking tour of some of the informal logical fallacies evident in their contributions to this blog . . .

Anonymous says:

When there is only one student in the classroom who doesn’t like the teacher and the way the teacher teaches, there is a problem! This student has a problem!

Fallacy No 1 we call the appeal to popularity, also known as the bandwagon fallacy. If there is a problem with the teacher’s teaching, it exists regardless of the extent to which it is acknowledged by his students. In other words: just because Matthew is outnumbered, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Onto Fallacy No. 2:

If you don’t know Mr. Paszkiewicz and the way he teaches…just be quite! You don’t know what is going on…

This one is known as an appeal to ignorance, albeit applied in an unusual way. Ordinarily, advancers of the appeal to ignorance appeal to their own ignorance in defence of a given proposition; here, they’re appealing to mine. Anonymous is saying: you weren’t there, physically, in the classroom, so how can you comment upon what transpired there? The answer is that, not having witnessed the events myself, I have to rely upon the evidence before me; and I see no reason to distrust the evidence.

Anonymous continues:

Remember, let’s be a little bit smart here, recorded material can be taken out of context.

Yes, yes, of course. But let’s not forget also that (i) the audio is available online for all to hear, (ii) rather than explain the “context” of his remarks, Paszkiewicz chose to lie about them, and (iii) the recordings seem to have been accepted as credible by the school authorities, who doubtless would have taken context into consideration, but who nonetheless decided to discipline the teacher (however lightly). In any case, meet fallacy no. 3: Poisoning the well.

Stop blaming the teacher and defending the student just because you are anti-christian.

Stop constructing strawmen (fallacy No. 4)

By the way, if you can’t trust recorded materials, you must ask the students who were present at the time…It doesn’t look like Matthew is getting any support there…

False premise (i.e. “you can’t trust recorded materials”), returning us to the bandwagon fallacy.

Carmen picks up where Anonymous leaves off:

A question..is this recorded too? “The teacher then declined to comment further without his union representative. However, he fired one last shot at the student, saying, “You got the big fish … you got the big Christian guy who is a teacher…!” if not…how can we can prove it is true? curious….

Apparently you can trust recorded materials. Carmen again:

By the way, Matthew is a biblical name…very interesting…

And this is an ad hominem argument. Whether “Matthew” is a biblical name is neither here nor there as regards the rightness or wrongness of Matt LaClair’s actions.

UPDATE: For more examples of wooly thinking from the good folk of Kearney, visit this thread on the Kearney discussion forum. (Via Jim Lippard)

UPDATE II: Insofar as we can trust recorded materials (hehe), Rational Rant has a partial transcript up. How’s this for a textbook example of special pleading:

But the public school shouldn’t teach a religion, but the scriptures aren’t religion.

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