Teach Your Kids to Argue

They teach way too much english and history in school and not nearly enough physics (but that’s the topic of my next blog).

But the one subject that they really need to teach more of is rhetoric. Jay Heinrich believes that every parent should teach their children to argue and I agree.

To disagree reasonably, a child must learn the three basic tools of argument. I got them straight from Aristotle, hence the Greek labels: logos, ethos, and pathos.

Heinrich goes through each of the elements of rhetoric in turn and illustrates it with examples from arguments with his children.

Logos is argument by logic. If arguments were children, logos would be the brainy one, the big sister who gets top grades in high school. Forcing my kids to be logical forced them to connect what they wanted with the reasons they gave.

Mary won’t let me play with the car.

Why should she?

Because she’s a pig.

So Mary should give you the car because she’s a pig?

Repeat the kid’s premise (she’s being a pig) with her conclusion (therefore she should let me play with the car), and she has to think logically.

Logos is the one that gets technical people in trouble with their non-technical wives. Ethos is what gets them out of trouble. Sometimes.

Ethos, or argument by character, employs the persuader’s personality, reputation, and ability to look trustworthy. (While logos sweats over its GPA, ethos gets elected class president.) My kids learned early on that a sterling reputation is more than just good; it’s persuasive. In rhetoric, lying isn’t just a foul because it’s wrong, it’s a foul because it’s unpersuasive. A parent is more likely to believe a trustworthy kid and to accept her argument. For example, if both children – the entire list of suspects – deny having eaten the last cookie, ethos becomes important.

Me: One of you took the cookie.

Dorothy: Have I ever stolen cookies before?

Me: Good point. George?

Careful with pathos. Especially if you have a daughter.

Then there’s pathos, argument by emotion. It’s the sibling who gets away with everything by skillfully playing on heartstrings. When a kid learns to read your emotions and play them like an instrument, you’re raising a good persuader.

Dorothy: Dad, you look tired. Want to sit down?

Me: Thanks. Where did you have in mind?

Dorothy: Ben & Jerry’s.

The article was even better the second time I read it. You should read it too.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

2 thoughts on “Teach Your Kids to Argue”

  1. “Logos is the one that gets technical people in trouble with their non-technical wives.”

    Don’t make me laugh right after I’ve had abdominal surgery!

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