Our Stories @ ENG: A series in which teaching staff and students share their memories of the ENG Department to coincide with the 60th Anniversary of the department. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Pride of Place” series.] [Revisit the “Pet Sounds” series.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
Teaching Logical Fallacies
by Mingxing Li
When I taught logical fallacies in the course “Argumentation and Persuasion” in 2017, I ventured to get the students involved using a secret plan—secret to them, not to me—over three weeks. In the first week, I assigned some reading and a written assignment in which they had to answer simple questions referring to the texts they read. In the second week, I taught ‘logical fallacies’ and collected the homework. As I had planned, I gave all students a significantly lower score than they deserved.
I began the third week’s class by returning the homework individually to each student and warned them not to let others see their own assignment. With a glum face, I said, ‘I found that some students’ answers are extremely similar to each other. Plagiarism can be the only explanation for such similarities. Therefore, some of you must have committed plagiarism. In accordance with the relevant regulations, I have decided that those who have plagiarised should get a penalty on this assignment.’
Not surprisingly, their faces turned to dismay, displeasure and even hostility. After an awkward silence, a number of students raised their hands. I allowed them to express their opinions and I let on in an arrogant way that I was not interested in listening. Despite my charade, they all offered good points in their defence, though some were delivered in a pitch higher than usual. In particular, a student named Krystal made a well-structured counterargument in a calm voice and she managed to point out all the logical fallacies in my utterances. Then I asked the class who agreed with Krystal and all promptly raised their hands. Taking a deep breath, I told them that the past few minutes had been a quiz and I appreciated their responses.
Compared with the countless logical fallacies in our lives, the above case is actually a straightforward one. I hope my teaching is meaningful and moreover I hope our students will always use their rationality in handling logical fallacies, regardless of whom they might be said by or how upsetting they might appear in a particular situation.
Mingxing Li is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature.