Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm Teaching an Informal Fallacies Class

One of the classes I'm teaching at a homeschool co-op this fall is an introductory course to informal fallacies for students aged 12-16. I am co-teaching the class and there are five students. The text the students are using is a consumable student workbook called "The Art of Argument: an Introduction to the Informal Fallacies" by Aaron Larsen, Joelle Hode with Chris Perrin. My co-teacher and I are using the teacher manual.

The class is going great so far.

I had not pre-read the book before starting the class. A classical homeschooling mom friend of mine had proposed the course to me and lent me her book to peruse and I decided to offer the class and that text based on that preview. The book is turning out to be very good.

A teacher or homeschool mother could get away with teaching the class with only the student workbook if they wing the answers to the questions and if they don't care about tests.

I am a bit disappointed in the teacher manual. It is an exact replica of the student workbook with answers written in. At the back are tests that can be reproduced, followed by the test answer key. What I don't like is there are no notes or additional things that a teacher could discuss in the classroom for ideas.

This text could easily be used at home with homeschool mom and child. However I chose to do this as a group class as I think this lends itself well to group discussion. The kids seem to get energy from each other during discussions and sometimes what one student says seems to help the lightbulb go off in another student. The types of classes I prefer to teach at a homeschool co-op are those that lend themselves best to group discussion, something that is harder to pull off at home with mom and one child or mom, child and younger or older siblings.

We have the students read the sections and answer the questions at home. Then in class we go over the content to make sure the students understand it, because sometimes they just don't quite get it yet. We discuss the points. The parts which are scripts between Socrates and modern day students are read aloud in class, mostly to keep the kids alert and to not have the entire content lecture by the teachers.  We go over all the sample ads in the workbook and have the students tell the group their impressions of the ad and how it fits that fallacy.

However ideas for discussion or prompts for discussion are not given in the teacher manual which would be helpful. My co-teacher is more creative than I, to come up with ways to expand on these topics. I think the book is pretty thorough and have trouble finding things to talk about beyond this without just repeating what is in the text. Sometimes my co-teacher or I discusses a hot current event topic and asks if the students have heard of it (most of the time they have not) we discuss the fallacies being used in arguments about that issue and give a general summary of the issue at hand.

Some of the ad examples in the book are a bit too vague or just not detailed enough. We have asked students to bring in ads they spot in magazines or newspapers. We know they may think there is a fallacy, perhaps it is one we have not yet learned, but we want it anyway. We are compiling a stack of ads to identify in the future. We teachers are also bringing in ads. The ads which apply to fallacies already covered in the class are most of what the students are bringing in. We have the student who brought in an ad show it and discuss what they think. We then have the other students talk about that ad.

One other thing we are doing is having the students work in pairs to make up their own scenarios to illustrate the fallacy. For example they can act out a TV commerical for a political ad for a specific fallacy, or a product advertisement for a specific fallacy.

Our class is 90 minutes long and even with a break we find we can cover three fallacies per class. This means we will have no problem getting through the whole book with its 28 informal fallacies in our thirteen week session (20 hours of direct instruction).

The class is going so well we think we may offer a course next semester in which is the next book in the series about formal logic: The Discovery of Deduction.

After that is a book  that helps students learn create good arguments: The Argument Builder.

My co-teacher would like to teach a class with this book: Socratic Circles by Copeland.

Additionally some students in this co-op are taking a course by an attorney/homeschool mother about how to debate and they are considering starting a homeschooler Mock Trial competitive team. A number of these same students took a course by that teacher last semester about History's Greatest Trials and did an introduction to the United States legal system and the court system.

Most of the kids in my class now seem to really love this material. It's great to teach kids who really want to know this stuff. I love seeing kids "get it". They like the idea of learning how to spot fallacies so they are not duped by propaganda or advertising. They seem to really be getting into the idea of becoming more savvy in that way, what I'd term as "learning to think critically" as well as improving their powers of observation.

I'm lucky to have this co-teacher homeschool mom friend of mine as to be honest I think she's pulling off teaching this class better than I am.


K said...

A lot of homeschoolers I know use
The Fallacy Detective.
IT addresses a lot of the common fallacies like the Red Herring, Straw Man, Propaganda etc.....
It is on my bookshelf, and has been for an embarassingly long time.

christinemm said...

Hi K,
I own The Fallacy Detective but haven't used it yet.

I like the workbook style of this with the ad samples (illustrations). It works well for group learning.

Art of Argument is informal fallacies only with the 2nd book covering formal fallacies. I think "The Fallacy Detective" has both types.

The Art of Argument has tests that appeals to some homeschoolers or co-ops. The Fallacy Detective is a book you read through, no workbook, no tests.

Seems most people have The Fallacy Detective.

FOr my purpose for an all inclusive HS co-op the religion-less Art of Argument with its workbook style is working well.