Case Review: Constructing an Argument

In Case Review, I am using the March 2014 Resolution and cases you sent in to help you prepare for the topic and improve your case writing. The March 2014 resolved is: Single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools.

Let’s look at one Affirmative argument and see how we can improve the argument’s construction.

Contention #1 Development Differences

Due to the gaps and variations between the development of boys and girls different teaching methods must be implemented. According to a comprehensive study from the National Institute of Mental Health there are remarkable differences in the brain development of boys and girls.  The occipital lobe, which is used for visual processing, shows rapid development in girls from ages 6 to 10 while boys show the largest growth after they’re 14. Additionally the frontal lobe, which is the decision making part of the brain, has been proven to develop later in boys which causes them to be more impulsive and therefore would benefit from lessons that accommodate the shorter attention span. It is not that boys and girls are that different but development happens at different times and therefore capitalizing on these opportunities is paramount. By establishing single gender classrooms we will optimize a learning experience for each gender leading to Higher test scores, kids who enjoy learning, and greater success in future careers.

First, let’s break down the argument pieces:

Tagline: Contention #1 Development Differences

Claim: Due to the gaps and variations between the development of boys and girls different teaching methods must be implemented.

Warrant: According to a comprehensive study from the National Institute of Mental Health there are remarkable differences in the brain development of boys and girls.  The occipital lobe, which is used for visual processing, shows rapid development in girls from ages 6 to 10 while boys show the largest growth after they’re 14. Additionally the frontal lobe, which is the decision making part of the brain, has been proven to develop later in boys which causes them to be more impulsive and therefore would benefit from lessons that accommodate the shorter attention span. It is not that boys and girls are that different but development happens at different times and therefore capitalizing on these opportunities is paramount.

Impact: By establishing single gender classrooms we will optimize a learning experience for each gender leading to Higher test scores, kids who enjoy learning, and greater success in future careers.

Let’s look at each part.

Tagline: Contention #1 Development Differences

This is not a complete thought. A possible rewrite could be

 Contention #1 Single-gender classrooms accomodate for Development Differences

or

 Contention #1 Single-gender classrooms provide need-specific education

Claim: Due to the gaps and variations between the development of boys and girls different teaching methods must be implemented. 

Must is strong. I would use should – you have yet to prove your argument. I also do not know what development means at this point. This should be clarified to not leave the judge in the dark. What age of boys and girls are you referring to? The argument is very broad and is not narrowed before evidence is introduced.

A possible rewrite could be: Boys and girls brain development is drastically different during the years of primary and secondary education. Single-gender classrooms can adapt to these unique brain development paths and provide need-specific educational tools. 

Warrant: According to a comprehensive study from the National Institute of Mental Health there are remarkable differences in the brain development of boys and girls.  The occipital lobe, which is used for visual processing, shows rapid development in girls from ages 6 to 10 while boys show the largest growth after they’re 14. Additionally the frontal lobe, which is the decision making part of the brain, has been proven to develop later in boys which causes them to be more impulsive and therefore would benefit from lessons that accommodate the shorter attention span. It is not that boys and girls are that different but development happens at different times and therefore capitalizing on these opportunities is paramount. 

There is a lot going on here – scientific vocabulary that a judge will not understand and a piling up of evidential claims. What is quoted and what is paraphrased? When was the study conducted? What does “comprehensive” mean? Since I don’t have this evidence, I will clean it up with some blanks.

A possible rewrite:

The National Institute of Mental Health found in [insert year] that there are remarkable differences in the brain development of boys and girls. Visual processing rapidly develops in girls ages 6 to 10 while boys show the largest growth after they’re 14. The frontal lobe, or decision making part of the brain, has been proven to develop later in boys. This means boys struggle with impulsive decisions and shorter attention longer than girls. Education that accommodates these brain development differences can meet the students where they are. Single-gender classrooms can be used to target the age groups where differences are greatest to help students achieve and learn to their full potential. 

Impact: By establishing single gender classrooms we will optimize a learning experience for each gender leading to Higher test scores, kids who enjoy learning, and greater success in future careers.

I like the language of optimize. The impacts claimed here, however, have not been proven. The only evidence provided proves brain development differences. More evidence is necessary to link brain development to these results. First, evidence is needed to show that single-gender classrooms can affective target these differences and improve education. Second, the programs of single-gender classrooms must be proven to lead to higher test scores, greater enjoyment of education, and long term success. Right now these claims are far-fetched without any evidential basis.

A few more thoughts…

Avoid absolute statements and broad generalizations. These are difficult to defend and therefore hard to win. One example is: “Single gender classrooms are a proven effective strategy for increasing all around academic performance and will fix many of the problems in our education system.” This is mouthful, and it claims that “all around academic performance” will be improved and talks about the “many problems” that will be fixed without any specific improvements.

A possible rewrite would be:

Single gender classrooms increasing academic performance on standardized tests, which are the most reliable measure of educational quality we provide. Because these tests illustrate comprehensive learning, education is increasing in single-gender classrooms.”

But we should also consider the kiss principle, or “keep it simple stupid”. Therefore, the minimum claim would be:

Single gender classrooms increasing academic performance on standardized tests, which are the most reliable measure of educational quality we provide.

Make sure you’ve got your tagline, claim, warrant, impact, and simple writing covered in your cases – it will make all the persuasive difference!

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