These people typically have an absolute attachment to a particular position and rational argument cannot dissuade them. In that case, ridicule is perfectly acceptable. Sometimes it's the only way to illustrate the absurdity of an opponent's position.
Ridiculing an opponent based on his irrational position is not the same as making an ad hominem argument which is merely a personal attack. Someone needs to explain the distinction to these guys. Not that'll do any good at this point; they've drunk the Kool aid.
I raise the issue because a little debate has broken out between Allen and Anon in the comments due to Professor Plum's ridiculing of educrats as imbeciles.
Here's Allen's position:
Plum's quite a guy but in this he's wrong and it should be self-evident.And, here's Anon's position.
His assertion, "they are imbeciles", is clearly not true. Ed school profs, school administrators, school board members and teachers are not imbeciles at least not in the classic, definitional sense. This is Plum's way of dismissing a point of view with which he disagrees and that results in practices which he can prove don't work. Yet they, the "imbeciles", are unimpressed by his proofs and continue espousing and using bad methods.
What possible explanation could there be for preferring unproductive practices over productive? Plum's response is dismissing the plyers of educational snake oil as imbeciles.
Since they aren't imbeciles - they drive cars, write checks, dress and feed themselves, write dissertations - there must be some other, rational explanation for preferring dull tools over sharp. A reason Plum, and all the other edu-pundits I read, either can't or can't be bothered to try to understand.
That's a lousy attitude to hold if you're trying to diagnose an institutional illness because without understanding these seemingly illogical actions you've reduced your own actions to dart-throwing. Whatever remedies you want to apply, without an understanding of the cause of the situation, they're made random due to that ignorance.
Anyone care to proffer a reason one batch of edu-crats might choose constructivism or whole language and another batch choose direct instruction and phonics? To make the task more difficult, and worthwhile, any answers that are inherently self-inflating, are forbidden. That means no psych evaluations of insanity which imply the sanity of the diagnostician and no intelligence estimates which imply the brilliance of the estimator.
Allen, I hear what you are saying. You are arguing that if Prof. Plum can't pinpoint exactly why Constructivists do what they do, then he should not instead resort to a type of name calling, for this is an example of coming to a conclusion without valid premises. Such conclusions, I hear you saying, do not follow the principles of logic and are thus invalid. Is this your basic argument here?I think I side with Anon on this one (as does SteveH). Allen raises some good points, but I think you go down the rabbit hole when you try to determine the motives behind some of these positions. Motives likely vary, but the nuttery is a constant.
But allow me to present you with the following:
What would you conclude if you were trying to understand why an educated person say, wouldn't agree that 2+2=4. First you tried using manipulatives, showing this person that if you first gave him 2 M&Ms, and then you gave him 2 more M&Ms, that he now had 4 M&Ms. But the person said no, that what was in his hand did not prove that 2+2=4. So, you continued to make you explanation more detailed, going further and further into a discussion of mathematics, and what the concept of numbers represent, etc. Yet, the more you talked to this person, the more you found out that the person did not believe there was a such thing as integers, despite epochs of legitimate mathematical discovery on the subject.
But this individual just keeps insisting that 2+2 does not equal 4, and that no math is real, it is all a theory. No matter what, this person will not admit anything.
Would you proffer a reason this educated person might say such nonsense? Would you defend him by coming up with euphemisms to describe his point of view, or coming up with a term to describe his philosophy? Would coming up with a term to describe his philosophy then validate his philosophy, by virtue of the fact that you either came up with a term for it, or that the philosophy was well known, and already had a term? Or would you still insist that this guy is wrong, that everybody knows 2+2=4, and that no amount of his rationalizing and theorizing was going to change that fact?
Is there any chance you might resort to characterizing him as stubborn, nutty or just plain contrary for the sake of being a pain in the ass? Or would you instead, label him, and refuse to try and characterize him because his belief system has a name?
Would you never conclude this person was imbecile, or stubborn or ignorant?
What if you discovered that this person had fiduciary links to the philosophy via a say, a TV-based religion, or a line of self-improvement books and tapes, and the guy was making a lot of money spreading this philosophy? Would that change your tact on any of the way you'd handle his arguments?
Just curious as to what you think...
Update: Mr. Person of Text Savvy has his taken on this imbecile business and threatens more to come.