I spent quite a bit of time “arguing” with folks on the comment section of a News & Observer article highlighting the NEA’s “Rankings and Estimates” study, among other topics.  It was exhausting.  I don’t recommend it.

Anyway, a few of the folks commenting on the article accused me of being “obtuse” because I asked them to back their claims that, for example, there is a relationship between spending and teacher turnover in North Carolina.  To make matters worse, they wanted me to substantiate their claims for them!  So I would like to offer Stephen Toulmin’s model for argumentation:

  1. Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument.
  2. Grounds: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim.
  3. Warrant: the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim.
  4. Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant.
  5. Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments.
  6. Qualification: specification of limits to claim, warrant and backing.  The degree of conditionality asserted.

You see, when you make a claim, you have the responsibility to provide evidence that supports it.  You can’t just skip to the warrant or substitute backing for grounds.

For example, one person claimed that North Carolina charter schools that did not offer food service and transportation disenfranchise poor families (CLAIM A).  I asked for evidence (GROUNDS A) that this was the case.  Instead, he or she claimed that anyone in circumstances X, Y, and Z would be disenfranchised because they do not have the time or money to transport and feed the child on their own (WARRANT A and BACKING A).  My response (REBUTTAL A) was that evidence (GROUNDS A) had not been presented.  He or she refused to revise  the claim (that is, QUALIFY A) and, instead, argued that providing the evidence (GROUNDS A) was my responsibility.  I pointed out that his or her  secondary argument (CLAIM B) did not follow standard models of argumentation (GROUNDS B) based on the fact that standard models require those that make the claim to provide grounds (WARRANT B and this blog post provides BACKING B).  My response prompted the respondent to a return to the previous claim (CLAIM B).  Once that happened, I gave up because, after all, the first claim (CLAIM A) had not been addressed.