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The authors demonstrate their postmodern perspective when they explicitly reject the distinction between rational and irrational argumentation, claiming that rationality is merely a social construct. To provide an example of the alleged social construction of rationality, they allege that before the twentieth century people considered rational the belief that women shouldn't participate in politics. Their allegation, however, accurately describes only a portion of Americans; in many western states women regularly voted during the nineteenth century, and even elsewhere were able to participate in politics (ironically, using some of the rhetorical devices the authors discuss) well before they could vote.
More importantly, moreover, the authors' argument suffers from the fallacy of concluding that just because somebody falsely claimed as rational an irrational argument there must therefore be no such thing as an objectively rational argument. They further assault objective rationality by using "rationality" in a completely different sense: noting that it's "rational" to drive on the right side of the road in America, but on the left side of the road in England, as though the adoption of different traffic conventions undermines the existence of objective rationality.
The authors pretend some ideological balance by including one excellent article against gun-control by James Q. Wilson, two tiny pro-life pieces, and three brief letters between conservatives Milton Friedman and Bill Bennett debating drug prohibition. Overwhelmingly, however, the authors use portions of leftist political tracts outright, or leftist arguments buried under neutral window-dressing, to illustrate their pedagogical points.
The book begins, for instance, by saluting and excerpting Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, often credited with starting the environmentalist movement. Carson's book stands as the authors' exemplar of how to employ "good reasons." To ensure that students understand the point--both pedagogical and environmental--the authors refer to Silent Spring repeatedly, and buttress its credibility both by mentioning an earlier but less influential book which reached the same conclusions, and by including a companion piece from another environmentalist predicting yet more chemical gloom and doom unless the wise hand of Big Government grasps further control of our lives.
The authors discuss Carson alone on fully 22 pages, while they never refer to Wilson's article beyond the 4 pages on which it appears. The authors fail to provide any pieces containing countervailing views on environmentalism and are careful to try to discredit such views by implying that such views come only from large corporations which allegedly profit by polluting. They make sure, by contrast, to preface the Wilson piece with the suggestion that Sarah Brady's emotional testimony carries more weight than does empirical evidence which demonstrates that gun-control doesn't reduce gun crime.
The authors do not limit their advocacy of leftist ideology to environmentalism. They use excerpts from a book on body size by a male author, and pictures of President Taft, Marilyn Monroe and Gwyneth Paltrow to cleverly and covertly support the radical feminist agenda of encouraging women to be fat. They utterly neglect the mounting medical evidence that both men and women suffer a substantially greater risk of heart attack from being a mere ten percent overweight. They also include pieces designed to increase sympathy for more Mexican immigration, government spending on AIDS research, and government restriction of the use of animals in medical research. The point isn't which side of these issues one favors--for instance, I support open immigration and prefer the "fat" Monroe to the thin Paltrow--but that on many issues the authors, despite their pretense otherwise, provide no balance to the current leftist views they include.
The authors do offer some valuable and insightful analytical tools, making their extreme political bias all the more regrettable. Perhaps the authors did not even recognize their own bias. If not, then when they write the next edition they might apply their own analytical tools to ferret out their own leftist advocacy, and make the book more truly balanced. Until such time as they produce a balanced edition there will remain good reasons to avoid Good Reasons.
In their acknowledgments, Professors Faigley and Selzer thank Stephen W. Wilhoit of The University of Dayton, who wrote A Brief Guide to Writing from Reading. Given an actual choice among Good Reasons, Writing From Reading, and no book at all I hesitantly chose Writing From Reading for my beginning Rhetoric course. Professor Wilhoit, like his colleagues, uses an occasional excerpt from a non-leftist source to provide a veneer of ideological balance to his otherwise left-leaning manual. Professor Wilhoit, however, provides far fewer ideological pieces of any nature, and focuses much more on the nuts and bolts of reading and writing critically. Having taught history students for 9 years, I can attest that Professor Wilhoit's step-by-baby-step approach provides exactly the sort of guidance required by the vast majority of undergraduates, whose reading, writing and thinking skills have been almost completely neglected by the failure we call "public education" in America. Not without its own flaws, Writing From Reading nonetheless offers more than Good Reasons to the writing instructor more interested in teaching students how to think and write clearly than in transforming them into advocates for leftist causes.
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