1. Alabama’s senators want children to address their teachers as ma’am or sir.
COMMENT: This is an empirical claim based on a unanimous vote in the Alabama Senate to require children to include either the honorific sir or ma'am ("Yes, ma'am") or the teacher's name and title ("No, Mrs. Jones") in addressing a teacher. The statement is true.
2. This proposal is not wise.
COMMENT: This is a valuative claim. The argument is that the proposed law conflicts with the value of education. Since this is the main thesis in the argument, we should withhold judgment on its truth until we examine the other arguments.
3. It will not improve their learning or help students communicate.
COMMENT: There are perhaps two empirical claims here, but they are closely related. The writer is arguing that adding sir or ma'am to each statement in conversation with a teacher (as the writer did facetiously in his letter) will interfere with communication and thus disrupt students' learning. I know of no scientific studies that establish this point, but it seems true based on personal experience. I find it difficult carry on a conversation with students who address me as sir with every statement, and I doubt it facilitates the thinking that is the hallmark of learning. My guess is this statement is true.
4. The First Amendment forbids laws that infringe on free speech.
COMMENT: This is an analytical claim, and it is clearly supported by the language of the First Amendment, which says in part, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech." Whether it is relevant to the sir and ma'am law is open to question. The free speech provision, for example, does not guarantee a student's right to curse a teacher. However, there is no denying the claim is true.
5. The Constitution forbids titles of nobility.
COMMENT: This is another analytical claim, but here it's relevance is questionable. Our government is indeed prohibited from granting titles of nobility like sir, lady, duke, baron, earl, lord, etc. (Article I, Section 9). However, the requirement to address a teacher as sir or ma'am does not grant the teacher a title of nobility. Thus, the claim is true but likely irrelevant here.
6. Courtesy is a matter for parents and teachers to decide.
COMMENT: This is a valuative claim. The writer is saying that rules about courtesy should be left to the discretion of parents and teachers rather than written into law. This claim if probably consistent with the value of limited government, the view that government should not have authority over everything. It is consistent with the design of our government (compare the Tenth Amendment, which says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people). I would argue that it is true.
7. The senators are trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
COMMENT: This is an empirical claim. The writer is alluding to a popular aphorism, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." He is claiming that there is no disciplinary problem requiring the proposed sir and ma'am law. Because there is evidence that school discipline is a serious and continuing problem in public schools, this is probably false.
Does the proposed sir and ma'am law conflict
with the value of education? Here are the true statements made by
the writer that are relevant to the issue: The proposed law does
not improve students' learning or help them communicate. It would
infringe on their free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Lawmakers proposing the law are going beyond their domain and interfering
with the prerogatives of parents and teachers. In my judgment, the
writer has provided good evidence in support of the view that the proposed
and ma'am law is unwise.
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