In March 2020, the first schools closed. Since then, the debate has focused on whether and how schools should reopen. While the risks to keeping schools closed are great (such as “learning loss” and the mental health toll of social isolation), there are concerns that reopening might result in a surge of COVID-19 cases. Each side has multiple arguments and legitimate sources of evidence. Argument mapping can help us gain a greater understanding of the current state of this debate, as well as evaluate the most relevant claims at stake.
Argument mapping is a visual way of breaking down an argument to better understand how the reasons provided work to support the main claim. A map illuminates the often-hidden structure of an argument, making it clear how all of the different parts fit together to form a comprehensive whole. By understanding other people’s arguments more precisely and more completely, we position ourselves to respond more thoughtfully. To learn more about argument mapping, check out ThinkerAnalytix.
Imagine a discussion about schools reopening “in the wild.” Someone in favor of reopening might argue that doing so is necessary for the academic, physical, and emotional wellbeing of students as well as the overall economic health of the country. In support, they might cite research showing that students struggle to learn in online environments and that many students, particularly those from minority groups and lower socioeconomic classes, lack the resources needed to make full use of an online classroom (such as stable access to the internet). They might also cite the thousands of jobs lost when schools had to close (including most support staff positions).
In response, someone who wishes to prolong school closures might argue that reopening will cause significant harm to students, teachers, and families by placing them at greater risk to contract the virus and exposing them to the mental health hazards of working or studying in a dangerous environment.
At this point, someone evaluating the discussion might be at a loss. Both sides argue that the alternative to their position places people, particularly students, in harm’s way. How should we weigh these competing claims, or determine which harm is greater?
While at first, the disagreement seems intractable, mapping both sides of the argument can help us better understand each side’s claims and how they interact with each other. For example, we can see that while both sides want…