The strawperson argument

Challenging negative evaluations of EAP & EAP practitioners

I read the abstract of a recently published article posted to the BALEAP discussion list, which contained the sentence: ‘Although EAP has traditionally been blind to knowledge, focusing instead on language and skills development (Monbec, 2018), EAP courses are well placed to make explicit to students legitimated language practice AND legitimated knowledge practice.’ It made my blood boil – always a good trigger for a blog post.

It is an example of an argument that was traditionally – i.e. in the dark ages before enlightenment – called ‘strawman’, I guess now called strawperson. In this type of argument, the writer sets up a spurious claim, ‘EAP focuses on language and skills development’, weakly supported (Monbec, 2018 – who?) in order to knock it over with their own superior position. This same strawperson argument was levelled at EAP as an ‘academic socialisation’ model in the early days of Academic Literacies (Lea and Street, 1998). It was critiqued by Wingate & Tribble (2012), who noted that criticisms of EAP refer to ‘practices which might still have been in place at the time of the authors’ seminal publication (1998) [but] do not take into account Genre/EAP’s founding principles, recent literature and innovation in current instructional practice’ (p.488). I would suggest that the writer cited above is guilty of exactly the same thing as Lea and Street in 1998.

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