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Teaching controversial issues:
A four-step classroom strategy for clear thinking on controversial issues

 Home > Step 4: How are the arguments manipulated?

Step 4: How are the arguments manipulated?

This is the stage of the process when questions are asked on the politics of the issue. This step is particularly important for students because it can help them understand how information can be used to influence opinion.

To determine how an argument is being manipulated, students must first determine who is involved and what their particular interests are in the issue. What is the rationalization for their position? What are their reasons for taking the position they advance?

By considering these questions, students begin to see how information can be selected, emphasized, or ignored according to its value to various positions on an issue. The degree to which the parties involved are acting in self-interest and use information only to support that interest could affect the legitimacy of a position. On the other hand, a strongly supported position or one with strong moral reasons could add credibility to an argument. A growing contemporary concern is the role of media in controversial issues and how media can engage in argument manipulation. It is very important for students to have an appreciation of how media are involved in issues. Media literacy has become an essential survival skill as the influence of the media increases. The question for students to address is, How can the media both reflect and create reality? To what extent on any given controversial issue is the media either creating the issue or manipulating the arguments?

Argument manipulation is usually accomplished through such strategies as scapegoating, false analogies, extreme examples, and others. The degree to which media or advocates of a position rely on such strategies is an indication to students of the validity of an argument. Detecting such tactics gives students a useful tool for assessing an argument and making a judgment on an issue.

As far as the Canada in Afghanistan question is concerned, there is lots of argument manipulation to go around and in the end it may not lead to a conclusion, only an awareness that manipulation happens. That in itself is a worthy learning outcome. Nevertheless, for this issue, it is evident that some time spent looking at examples of statements on the various sides should allow an informed opinion on where the manipulation is found and if one side is more prone to it than the other.

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Last updated: February 15, 2007 | (Revision History)
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