Previous Page An Argument 36.
The following appeared in an article in a college departmental newsletter.
Professor Taylor of Jones University is promoting a model of foreign language instruction in which students receive ten weeks of intensive training and then go abroad to live with families for ten weeks. The superiority of the model, Professor Taylor contents, is proved by the results of a study in which foreign language tests given to students at 25 other colleges show that first-year foreign language students at Jones speak more fluently after only ten to twenty weeks in the program than do nine out of ten foreign language majors elsewhere at the time of their graduation. Question
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underline the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate in conclusion. Analysis
This newsletter article claims that Professor Taylor's foreign-language program at Jones University is a model of foreign language instruction. This conclusion is based on a study in which foreign language tests were given to students at 25 other universities.
The study shows that first-year language students at Jones speak more fluently after just 10 to 20 weeks in the program than do 90 percent of foreign-language majors at other colleges at graduation.
Despite these impressive statistics, I am unconvinced by this argument for two reasons.
To begin with, the assumption here is that students from Professor Taylor's program have learned more than foreign language students at other universities. However, we are not given enough information about the study to be sure that this comparison is reliable.
For example, the article does not tell us whether the foreign language students at Jones were given the tests. It only reports that the tests in question were given to students at 25 other colleges. If Jones students were not tested, then no basis exists for comparing them to students at the other universities.
In addition, the article does not indicate whether students at all the universities, including Jones, were given the same tests. If not, then again no basis exists for the comparison.
Furthermore, we cannot tell from this article whether the universities in the study or their students are comparable in other ways. For instance, Jones might be a prestigious university that draws its students from the top echelon of high school graduates while the other universities are lower-ranked schools with more lenient admission requirements. In this event, the study wouldn't tell us much about Professor Taylor's program, for the proficiency of his students might be a function of their superior talent and intelligence.
In conclusion, the statistics cited in the article do not offer conclusive support for the claim about Taylor's program. To strengthen the argument, the author must show that the universities in the study, including Jones, were comparable in other ways that their foreign language students were tested identically and that Taylor's program was the only important difference between students tested at Jones and those tested at the other universities.