“He worried that his son would fall down the slippery slope…”

This is killer-father again.

In class discussion we explored ideas that might explain the probated sentence. Because I require that students defend that sentence, I try to get them to see the story from angles they might not have thought of. One is the possibility that the judge felt prison would be too easy for the father to handle—certainly easier than having to stay in the house where he had shared such happy times with his son—and so chose probation as the harsher punishment. Another is the possibility that the judge saw the father as confused and well-meaning and therefore not deserving of prison, and saw probation as the more humane punishment.

To develop the latter, I try to walk students through a story that might explain the father’s claims that “any use of drugs is dangerous” and that he had to save his son from a certain horrible end. To do that, I remind them (or inform them) of the “This is your brain on drugs” commercial, all the Law and Order scenes of discovering teens dead in crack houses, and all the claims that marijuana use leads inexorably to addiction to “harder stuff.” Then I explain the idea of logical fallacies and present the “slippery slope” fallacy.

You know what that is: an argument or interpretation based on the claim that one step in the wrong direction is inevitably followed by a process of sliding downhill to a dire conclusion.

No matter how carefully I explain this, a lot of students make statements later that suggest they have a literal slope in mind and that people slide down it simply because it’s there.

My student has made this assumption:

“He worried that his son would fall down the slippery slope and end up in a world of drugs.”

Notice that this young man is going to take a regular tumble, not merely slide. I get the picture of a rather Jack-and-Jill hill, with the son just beginning to tumble down it toward a little drug city at the bottom. No shrubs or outcroppings offer handholds or brakes along the way; the tumbler evidently falls, without thought or effort, down a slick mudpath.

My student (and many like him) completely overlooks the term “fallacy,” substituting a presumption of fact. I enjoy figurative language, but this landscape is mixed and unrealistic.

Max Shulman, in his Dobie Gillis story “Love Is a Fallacy,” does a better job than I at demonstrating the whole idea of the logical fallacy. I used to teach it; I should put it back on the reading list.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““He worried that his son would fall down the slippery slope…”

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