Friday, March 16, 2012

Classical Academic Press: The Art of Argument (A Review)

This month, as a part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I had the opportunity to review a product by Classical Academic Press called The Art of Argument. 
I had long wanted to have an opportunity to dabble in argumentation and debate. Does that surprise you? Well, long ago I realized that there are certain aspects to argumentation that, if you can learn them (and learn how to observe them and use them well), it can make it possible to have disagreement in a more cerebral, less emotional way.

I'm not sure if I am making myself clear. But, many years ago an attorney friend of mine, who taught debate, helped me to get the tiniest glimpse of the concept of a fallacy, and catching a person in a fallacy. And this program goes into the concept of fallacy (and 28 forms of informal fallacy) in great detail.

I received the following items free from Classical Academic Press, in exchange for my honest review:

This program contains three units, split into six chapters, covering 28 fallacies, and is designed to be spread out over one full school year.

Now, I know the DVD set is a little expensive, but the DVD is so worth it! I am totally loving the age of technology we are coming into with DVD sets. They are making my homeschool so much more successful (and easier!)!

This curriculum is geared towards Junior High students, which is perfect because as they hit that age-range (seems to start at about age 13), their brains are changing and they start to become very argumentative. It can seem they are becoming disrespectful, but that is not (necessarily) their intent. They are just at a changing place in their development where they are trying to figure things out. Equipping them with the ability to argue well enables them to approach situations much differently, and assists in diffusing many emotionally-charged situations.

Studying this material also enables the parents to see where their own arguments have fallacies. For example, I remember one recent situation where, even though I knew it was a fallacy, I had to ask my child to go clean up/change clothes, whatever the situation was. We were trying to accomplish something serious (I think it was a heart-to-heart talk), and I had to tell my child that I was really having difficulty taking him seriously when he looked so ridiculous; it was distracting. (I think maybe he had written on his face with marker or something...) So, the fallacy that ran through my mind was an example I had heard in the past of a type of setting where an attorney is trying to discredit a witness because of something unrelated that the witness had done in the past.

I think the fallacy I was thinking of might fall into the category of "Ad Hominem Circumstantial". But while I was looking it up to figure out what type of fallacy it might be, I saw another fallacy that I can illustrate even better. When I grew up, in the public school system teachers would often get siblings from the same family as they all worked their way up through the grade school. I remember distinctly situations where a teacher might say something like, "Oh! You're Kenny Smith's brother! I should have known I could expect this type of behavior from you..." This is an example of "Ad Hominem Genetic" fallacy, the student is guilty because of source of origin (from the same Smith family, therefore they're all bad).

The books clearly lay out different categories of fallacy, and specific fallacies within each category. For instance, the above "Ad Hominem" category refers to arguments against the source (discrediting the source as a way to win the argument). Another fallacy category is a category of appeal to emotions as a way to win the argument. A last category of fallacy, and one of my favorites, is the category of red herrings, which refers to presenting "proofs" to support the argument which are not emotion-related, but are nevertheless irrelevant to the situation.

The Art of Argument Teacher's Edition now contains the complete text of the student book, with the answers filled in on all the question spots. Having the student book contained in the teacher's book is hugely helpful! The TE also contains all the tests (to photocopy), as well as the test answer key. (This is so much nicer than some curricula where you must purchase the student textbook; the student activity book; answer key to the student activity book; test/quiz book; answer key to the student test/quiz book; and possibly an additional teacher book that gives things like recommended daily lesson plans, lecture notes, etc. All in one place. Nice.

So, the nitty gritty. On a grading scale of 1-10 (10 is the best):
  • Affordable? 10
  • Relevant:  10
  • My student liked: (N/A - he's 6th grade. I can't wait to use this with him next year!)
  • Age range of the product: Junior High, but older and younger could benefit as well. It's just that that Jr. High age is perfect for introducing the topic of Logic to. High school is then a good time to get into more formal debate.
  • Educational style: Classical
  • Necessary teacher prep: It is wise to read through each lesson in advance, or while the student reads through. If doing the DVDs, the parent can let the student do the material independently with the DVDs (if the student is honest and will do what he says he will do -- I prefer to do everything with my "less trustworthy" student at this time)
  • Consumable or reuseable: TE is reuseable; student book is consumable
  • Secular/religious: I detect no "bent" one way or the other. The book, very reasonably, deals with real-world-style advertising issues, but nothing that I saw was objectionable.
  • What did I like or dislike: I like everything about this program. I disliked that they did not give me the entire 6-DVD set, but, hey...
  • How could it be improved: I did not see anywhere in the book material a place where there is guidance on how to implement the program (daily/weekly lesson plan strategy). I saw one comment on the website that one Facebook fan did Unit 1 one year and will do Unit 2 the second year, so maybe they just want the parent to decide the pace, but I still would have preferred an example of a plan...
  • To whom would I recommend the program: to everyone with up-and-coming middle schoolers, and most especially boys! (My girls would have done well also, but I find my son more argumentative, ...or maybe I am just forgetting. It's been 10 years since my daughter was this age...)
So I highly recommend you consider looking into this product. It is going to be part of my school plan this coming year. I am home schooling using the "Charlotte Mason" approach, but implementing this material does not, in my opinion, in any way conflict with that approach. I DO want my homeschooling to implement a program of Argumentation and Debate, and this program looks like a winner in my home!

This has been a TOS Homeschool Crew Review.

To see more reviews of this product, go to the TOS Crew Review page.Throw me a bone! Leave me a comment! I love comments!

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