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Teaching the Enthymeme with Restaurants
Screenshot of Torchy's Tacos Website
This assignment requires students to think about how the enthymeme might function in practical argument—specifically, in convincing a group of out-of-town visitors to Austin to try one of the local restaurants. It serves as the tail end section of a two-day lesson on logical proofs, providing students a chance to apply and revisit some of the terminology we’ve covered.
Teaching students to utilize rhetorical logic—specifically enthymemes—in constructing an argument. The assignment also highlights the importance of considering audience, and revisits the notion of commonplaces.
Access to online restaurant reviews or restaurant websites. Though I like having students research restaurants in small groups during class, this could work in a classroom without computers if the teacher were to either (1) bring printouts of reviews/websites to class, or (2) provide students with time outside of class to research.
RHE 306 - Rhetoric & Writing is a course in argumentation that situates rhetoric as an art of civic discourse. It is designed to enhance your ability to analyze the various positions held in any public debate and to advocate your own position effectively. Your work in this course will help you advance the critical writing and reading skills you will need to succeed in courses for your major and university degree.
As a fan of classical rhetorical theory, I like to cover ethos, pathos, and logos fairly extensively in my 306 sections. I generally find logos the most difficult to teach. Not only is the set of terminology surrounding it (e.g. "enthymeme") tough; the entire epistemological frame required to think about "logic" in the nonscientific, probability-oriented way it's construed in classical rhetoric is often a new and tricky thing for students. I've found students tend to think "logic" must mean things like statistics and scientific facts. All this may be a story for another day, however.
So after introducing the concept of logos, I narrow to enthymemes. I start by writing a few examples of syllogisms—the relatively airtight chains of reasoning that enthymemes are not—on the whiteboard or document viewer. Since logos can be dry, I try for at least mildly interesting examples:
Premise #1: All sharks can detect the electromagnetic fields generated by their prey.
Premise #2: Genevieve is a tiger shark.
Conclusion: Genevieve can detect the electromagnetic fields generated by her prey.
Or, more germane to 2011-12's first-year forum topic:
Premise #1: All public schools receive government funding.
Premise #2: Lee High School is a public school.
Conclusion: Lee High School receives government funding.
I then shift into examples of enthymemes; examples that are based less on hard logic and more on probability and the commonplace beliefs of the audiences for whom their constructed:
Premise #1: Bigger bears are better.
Premise #2: Brown bears are bigger than black bears.
Conclusion: Brown bears are better.
Premise #1: Urban school disctricts in America are struggling.
Premise #2: Charter schools are the best way to reform struggling school districts.
Conclusion: We need more charter schools in America's urban areas.
(N.B.: As a way of reinforcing the ties between logic, ethos, and emotion—as well as the probabilistic nature of enthymemes in rhetoric, I like to show a clip from "The Promotion," the third episode of the sixth season of NBC's The Office. In the clip, one character—Jim—is attempting to construct a pro-con list as a way of making an important business decision. Another character, Michael, chides his logical approach, and Jim indeed ends up failing in presenting his eventual decision because of some presumed emotional baggage that undermines his ethos. The clip begins about 9 minutes into the episode, and I show it via Netflix. Jim's pro-con list can provide some additional examples of enthymemes that I've found students are often good at identifying.)
Once I've covered enthymemes, the activity unfolds as follows:
I put students into small groups—two or three students per. I then set out two bowls. One contains slips of paper, and on each slip is printed the name of a local Austin restaurant (obviously this is flexible, but I use Bite Mi, Torchy's Tacos, Madam Mam's, Trudy's, Homeslice Pizza, Wheatsville Coop, Kerbey Lane Cafe, Fran's Hamburgers, G'Raj Mahal, and Franklin Barbeque). The other bowl contains slips with the names of relatively well-known national chains (Chili's, Taco Bell, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Wendy's, The Melting Pot, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, IHOP, Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobster, and Ruth's Chris Steak House). The locals are printed in italics and the chains in bold for easy differentiation.
Each student group picks one slip out of each bowl. I then present them with the following rhetorical situation: You are serving as a tour guide for a prospective UT student, who's coming to visit Austin and the campus with his/her guardians. The bold name indicates your tour group's favorite restaurant. The italicized restaurant is a local spot you're responsible for convincing the group to eat at during their visit. In order to think through this situation, construct at least one enthymeme you think would likely convince the group to eat at the local restaurant. Also think of at least one enthymeme the group might use to challenge your suggestion. In both cases, your first premise is likely to be a commonplace attitude towards food indicated by your group's favorite restaurant. The second premise is likely to be either a potential affinity or disconnect between that commonplace and an aspect of the local restaurant. Use the computers to research these restaurants and figure out what persuasive options might be available to you.
I don't provide examples at this point in introducing the activity to students, as I like the groups to puzzle things out on their own. But the persuasive enthymemes they construct—I hope—look something like the following (first with a Wendy's/Fran's combo, then with IHOP/Kerbey Lane):
Premise #1: Your favorite restauant, Wendy's, is known for their hamburgers.
Premise #2: Fran's is known for having excellent hamburgers.
Conclusion: While in Austin, you should try Fran's burgers.
Premise #1: Since IHOP is your favorite restaurant, you probably like breakfast food.
Premise #2: Kerbey Lane Cafe serves breakfast food 24 hours a day.
Conclusion: You should stop by Kerbey Lane Cafe this evening and try their breakfast menu.
I've had students draw on price, ambience, convenience—all sorts of interesting variables. The enthymemes I ask students to anticipate their tour group responding with might look like the following:
Premise #1: Red Lobster's menu consists mainly of seafood.
Premise #2: Franklin Barbeque does not have seafood options.
Conclusion: We don't want to try Franklin because they've got no seafood.
These response enthymemes can be thought of as concessions, elements in a larger rebuttal or refutation, or simply ways of considering one's audience carefully.
I give students 10-15 minutes to construct these enthymemes, and then have them share both their restaurants and their enthymemes with the whole class. They are myriad discussions that can emerge here. I might point out, for example, the mini-entyhmeme already present in the first premise of the IHOP/Kerbey example above, or challenge students to come up with a way of responding to their tour group's challenge enthymemes. Students often end up visiting various restaurant review websites (Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon), so a credibility-of-research-sources conversation can also take place here.
As a bonus, I like to think of this activity as one teacher's small way of keeping Austin weird.
The most difficult part of this activity for me is keeping the definitions and limits of such rhetorical terms as "logos" and "enthymeme" straight. Students often have very good questions about what does or doesn't qualify as an enthymeme, and the more clear definitions and examples I'm ready with, the better.
More practically, you just need to have the slips and the bowls ready.
You can divide students into groups yourself, or have them form pairs and/or trios. My speech, mostly quoted from above:
"Once you're in your groups, have one member come up and get one slip of paper out of each of these two bowls."
Wait for this to occur.
"Here's your rhetorical situation: You are serving as a tour guide for a prospective UT student, who's coming to visit Austin and the campus with his/her guardians. The bold name on one of your slips of paper indicates your tour group's favorite restaurant. The italicized name is a local restaurant you're responsible for convincing the group to eat at during their visit. In order to think through this situation, construct at least one enthymeme you think would likely convince the group to eat at the local restaurant. Also think of at least one enthymeme the group might use to challenge your suggestion. In both cases, your first premise is likely to be a commonplace attitude towards food indicated by your group's favorite restaurant. The second premise is likely to be either a potential affinity or disconnect between that commonplace and an aspect of the local restaurant. Use the computers to research these restaurants and figure out what persuasive options might be available to you. You have about 10 minutes, at which point your group will share your enthymemes with the class."
I don't formally evaluate this one, though I do try to keep it in mind as a way of providing examples to students who struggle with logical proofs and enthymemes in their major 306 papers.
Students seem to get excited and like learning about Austin culture. Maybe not good if you have particularly hungry students and you want them to stay focused on enthymemes.