It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences (Aristotle)
No, I am not talking about any of the three musketeers (i.e. Athos, Porthos) but about the new craze that has invaded both the business world and the public high schools, the last case for the English writing class in particular. We the teachers are trying to explain the secrets of persuasive essays to our teen audience. The private sector is hiring experts in Aristotelian rhetoric to learn how to convince their employees and customers of any new policies or products and the surprise findings is that pathos is more effective than logos. In the case of students the problem is to teach them the difference between the three areas and show them how to write a persuasive essay based on those three concepts.
While good modern ads are based on the Greek philosopher’s 4000 year-old ideas, our main obstacle in writing classes is making our kids understand the foundations of human psyche. Pathos and Logos are relatively easy; Ethos is the big problem. We don’t teach ethical behavior rules in our school system; we just give them a handbook on what we expect from them while members of our schools. Based on talks with some of them, a conservative figure of 95% is a true reflection of their lack of interest in reading said guide. They are simply not interested in ethical rules, perhaps believing erroneously that only would be criminals should pay heed.
Or, more ominously, our modern students feel perhaps so entitled to receive everything without making the proper effort that they simply do not connect to ethos, unless the theme deals with a gross injustice. A teenager’s perception of what is fair and just may be quite different from an adult’s. They tend to see everything in black and white; for example, when questioned about their opinion of the Dream Act for undocumented students, the overwhelming majority voted in favor. Not for emotional reasons, not for logical reasons, but for ethical reasons. They affirmed that since these kids, through no fault of their own, had been living in this country since they were little children, it was only fair and just to allow them a path to residency and perhaps citizenship. They failed to take into consideration logical reasons to deny the Act, such as the possibility that more illegal aliens would be drawn to our country if it were passed. They also forgot or maybe cast aside the emotional side of the argument: The illegal students would have a grudge against a country they considered theirs after 10 years or more in our school system if the Act failed to pass.
Should Ethos, Pathos and Logos be taught in college and not in high school? Is a teen able to comprehend the intricacies of such concepts before they actually experience life with all its components? Judging by my students, juniors and seniors in high school, only a few, those bright minds with early maturity, are able to fully understand the need to apply all three Aristotelian ideas whenever we have a need to persuade. It is clearly reflected in their outstanding essays. The rest, hopefully, will eventually catch up when they reach their second or third year of college.