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On Enthymemes and Technology

As rhetoric and arguments tend to come up in the classes that I teach, we invariably spend some time talking about enthymemes. An enthymeme is a specific type of logical argument–a syllogism–in which either a premise or the conclusion is left implied or unspoken. So, for example, the statement, “Josh is a good husband because he does the dishes for his wife” is an enthymeme with one given premise (Josh does the dishes for his wife), one given conclusion (Josh is a good husband), and an implied premise (Men who do the dishes for their wives are good husbands). Whether they are valid or not (or true or not), enthymemes are effective forms because they subtly insert an assumption into an argument without coming out and presenting that assumption for analysis. Used rightly, enthymemes can be a powerful tool for truth; used badly, enthymemes can cloud thinking and mislead into error. We all hear and employ enthymemes on a daily basis, but we often over look them.

I was reminded recently of just how subtle enthymemes can be when I heard something like the following argument: An increased focus on technology in education is the direction our society is headed, so we had better get on board with it. The unspoken assumption carried in this enthymeme is, of course, that we should follow the direction our society is headed.

When the implied premise is revealed, the preceding argument turns out to be a weak (and somewhat disturbing) argument, yet I am still compelled to grapple with the fundamental issue: how should we view technology’s appropriate place in education?

As someone who uses “technology” (a ridiculously broad term) in the classroom I can attest to its usefulness in aiding teaching at times. But when it comes to attributing near-salvific power to technology in nearly every social sphere (as so many people are doing), I begin to feel uncomfortable. People apparently think that giving every kid an ipad or laptop is going to revolutionize education in America.

And they are right–it will revolutionize education (remember: form is content). I just don’t think the result will be quite what everyone was hoping for.

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