In seeing what is coming through in the social arena (Editor’s Note: this article was posted during the #OWS movement), I thought it would be great to be able to teach our kids to think critically in regard to what is happening with OWS, and in general. If someone is loud, that doesn’t mean he’s right. If someone bought her protest tent in China, that doesn’t mean she’s wrong. If people left garbage in a park, that doesn’t mean that their cause is ridiculous and we should support the causes of the tidy.
Even if we only teach the concept of Red Herrings (#7 Below) then that may be enough right here, right now.
But let’s have a go at teaching our kids about claims and arguments. The claim is the statement of belief or an opinion. The argument is then the reasons provided so that our claim will be accepted as true. Parker & Moore have written extensively about pseudo-reasoning and fallacies. By giving a name to the arguments that DO NOT actually back up a claim as a TRUE claim, we gain power… we know what to look out for… we focus on the claim (without getting sidetracked) and only the arguments that count. This post is a summary of their TOP TEN FALLACIES in a way that should make it be easy to explain to your kids. There are also a bunch of videos from our trial run of April Fool’s News that you can watch and analyze critically. Here’s the elevator pitch: April Fool’s News is humorous adventure in critical viewing that incorporates filming, scripted acting, improv, and both constructing and deconstructing a news piece slotted to “air” on the first of April. Participants take on one or more roles while bringing one producer’s “great idea” to do something “funny to the news” to fruition. This program uses flexible scripts and flexible roles to accommodate varying group sizes. April Fool’s News was inspired (in part) by Parker & Moore’s college-level textbook entitled Critical Thinking, and talking points (argument from outrage, loaded questions, emotive force of words, etc) revolve around concepts found in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. We are eager to further develop this course centered around Media Literacy, Critical Thinking, Critical Viewing, and Visual Literacy. Clips from our test run are below.
If you’re thinking “College-level text book? this is a kids’ site!” mosey on over to our stance on teaching Critical Thinking to the very young.
A Summary of the Top 10 Fallacies
Without further delay, I present a summary of Parker & Moore’s TOP TEN FALLACIES of all time:
- Ad Hominen: This is an attempt to rebut a claim by criticizing its source or something about that source. To explain this one to your kids think of a source (maybe a grouchy childhood TV show character) that has any trait or circumstance that is irrelevant to a claim he/she may make. The claim may be true no matter who said it! (What if it was a “smelly” character?) Sometimes the qualifications, reliability, and honesty of a person are rightly considered when assessing a claim. The Ad Hominem fallacy occurs when irrelevant attacks are made; a person is attacked rather than the actual argument he/she is making.
- Straw Man: The attempt to refute a position by distorting and exaggerating that position. This could also be a fun one to explain to your kids. Someone says carrot cake is excellent dessert. The straw man attack would be: He wants carrot cake– all day… and to sleep on a pillow with cream cheese frosting! He’ll ban all other foods and cakes… and make all the bunnies starve because now they have no carrots! All this just so he can sleep on a bed of cake and rid the world of bunnies. Clearly he is wrong and I am right. Carrot cake is terrible dessert… it can only lead to ruin.
- “Argument” From Outrage: This is an attempt to be right simply because you are being loud and angry. This fallacy can be found hand-in-hand with number 2 above. In fact, I inadvertently applied it in my example above.
- Scare Tactic: This is exactly what it sounds like. It is an attempt to care someone into believing something. Again, this could be a fun one to explain. If you watch our videos below, we came up with “Cellular Assault” and added some motion graphics and sound distortions to “scare” the general public about becoming a victim of “Cellular Assault.”
- Hasty Conclusions: This is also known as overgeneralizing. We are coming to hasty conclusions when we make generalizations from evidence that is merely anecdotal. If you live near or work with any Muslims, you likely know that there is a difference between a Muslim and the fanatical Muslims that do horrible things. We are lucky to know some Turkish Muslims here in San Diego and they are some of the most big-hearted, compassionate people we’ve met.
- Group Think: In this fallacy our loyalty to a group affects our judgement. The amusing Parker and Moore example is “Why is it the refs always call too many fouls on our team?” There are of course, more dangerous examples of the Group Think Fallacy.
- Red Herring: The Red Herring Fallacy is also known as “attention span” fallacy, since it seems to work best on those who are unable to stay focused on an issue when they are tempted by distractions. The red herring is something that gets us off track. We chase that herrring and lose site of what we were talking about in the first place. If we are talking about OWS and someone points out that “I bet that protestor bought a tent that is made in China” we may now start arguing about tent manufacturing and get entirely off of the real issue. Additionally, when someone answers an entirely different question than the one she/he was asked, we are witnessing the Red Herring Fallacy. Another word for this one is smokescreen.
- Wishful Thinking: We are committing this fallacy when we put more trust in what we want to be true than in what we have sufficient evidence for.
- “Argument” from Popularity: Everybody’s doing it (…therefore it must be true, right, etc).
- Post Hoc: These fallacies are applications of simple-minded examples of cause and effect. It rained just as I took my sneakers off and you said my socks were stinky, therefore, stinky feet causes rain.
Videos from the Test Run of “April Fool’s News”
This is the production team’s “great” idea for the April 1st newscast:
This clip (below) represents the “actual” events. Watch this with your kids.. it’s quick and straightforward.
The clip below represents the “edited” footage: Watch this with your kids and see what they think! What was done here to twist the story?
This is the “actual interview” with George. Note that the reporter asks what we call a LOADED QUESTION which illegitimately suggests something through the very existence of the question.
Below is the “edited version” of George’s interview. Wow, this was “aired” out of order huh? And notice that George said a lot in the interview, but most of it ended up on the editing room floor.
Below is the “real” interview with Chad…
Below is the “edited” interview with Chad. One of the key things to address here is the concept of rhetorical devices and emotive force. Many times rhetoric employs the use of layers of unstated meaning to influence the beliefs and attitudes of others. One way this is accomplished (or attempted to be accomplished) is via the use of powerful and biased emotive force. (It should go without saying that just because you are using or hearing rhetorical devices, the claim does not need to be dismissed. Just watch out for rhetoric devices that are employed as a substitute for logical argument.)
For a deeper dive into #OWS as a teachable moment, check out TeachableMoment.org.