Friday, January 28, 2011

Art of Argument Homeschool Co-Op Class Redux and Curriculum Review

In the fall of 2010 I was the lead teacher at a homeschool co-op for informal logic using the curriculum The Art of Argument by Aaron Larsen (new and expanded 2010 edition). This course uses a student workbook and a teacher's manual. The purpose of this post is to share how the course went now that the course is over.
I had an assistant teacher who was present for more than half the classes. I was grateful for my assistant teacher who was prepared for the lessons because she often gave insight and ideas that I could not come up with on my own.

One issue I have with the book is the examples for each of the fallacies are not from real life but are similar to real life. I understand due to copyright law and trademarks and such that real examples could not be used.  However the examples are sometimes so simple that they seem dumb or unrealistic, too silly to really be true for an ad, for example. We had to make up some additional examples that we felt were better, more true to life.

Sometimes we used real life current events examples although we'd originally planned to not do that. Between the two of us we were able to add more examples so the students would learn the fallacy or shall I say truly understand it. I'd  originally wanted to avoid discussing current day politics so as to avoid conflict and to avoid getting into discussions with kids about matters they don't truly understand. I was worried the student would parrot politicial opinions they'd heard said but truly don't understand the actual issue. I also worried that their parents would accuse me of being biased or trying to push my personal views on their children.

Another thing we did was we asked the students to bring in magazine or newspaper ads that illustrate a fallacy. My assistant teacher and I did this as well and it really helped the students connect to real life situtations where fallacies are used in marketing and advertising today. Sometimes the student (or teacher) had an ad that they thought was suspect but they couldn't put their finger on it. We sometimes ruled those out and other times found one that was a match (sometimes that was in a future lesson).

We had a class of six students in grades 6-11 although truly the real issue is the student's own maturity level and ability to think and communicate. This was an example of where a grade level is a bit mushy. We felt the sixth grader handled the course and content well while some of the older ones struggled more than the youngest one did. I believe this curriculum was intended for students in grades 7 and up (although at this moment I can't find that reference).

I felt this curriculum is taken to a higher level of teaching and learning when done with a class. What the students got from each other was an increased understanding of the material compared to what I can only imagine would happen at home with mom and one child (or two). The kids came up with examples that helped the other student's "lightbulb go off" where my example had apparently failed. The students said things that were funny and that lightened up the content. The discussions were interesting. We laughed along with the fake ads in the book.

All in all this was nearly a perfect class to teach. The kids were great, they were cooperative and attentive. Minds drifted and daydreaming was minimal for a 90 minute class that happened immediatley after lunch and recess. We didn't even take a regular break although looking back I'm asking myself why we didn't do that.

The teacher's manual is all that the teacher needs as it contains every page (in full size) as the student manual. There are tests at the back that can be copied and used. The student needs to have the student workbook. The workbook need not be written in although that makes it convenient. You could write on separate paper to keep the book clean for re-use with another student if you desire.

My complaint about the teacher manual is it does not provide much in the way of ideas or class discussion outside of what the student workbook has in it for questions they'd asked the students to write an answer to. We felt that just having the kids do the reading at home then to go over their answers in class was too boring. We wound up adding in things like asking them to work in pairs to come up with skits or written ads to illustrate a fallacy. Making up a politicial debate that illustrates one person committing a fallacy is one example of what the students would do.

Regarding the content I'd seen some negative comments on homeschool discussion boards about abortion being mentioned in the book. Remember this is a book for kids in grade 7 and older. Most kids know about abortion by then. There are a couple of examples that support the existance of a God and at least one that argues that God may not exist (some may find that controversial). In one place with the fallacy about the belief that if it's old, it must be good, it briefly states then would that mean that prostitution is good and should be legal now? Although the students read that at home we chose to blip over it in class to avoid it, as we were unsure if all the students even knew what that meant and we didn't feel it was necessary to discuss in class.

Honestly there are other examples in the book that would have better illustrated a fallacy but were actually NOT used as (I bet) someone (the publisher for example) would have been considered by some to be too controversial for some parents or teachers which may lead to people not buying the curriculum. Having read through this book about three times and having used the whole thing with one class my opinion is that the book is actually weak or low in controversial topics.

It could have really been packed with controversy but it is not. However that shouldn't stop the homeschool family who uses this book from adding in whatever examples you want, you won't be able to stop yourself from thinking of examples, to be honest. With the freedom you have to teach your children as you desire you could and will come up with many more examples to discuss.

This book is not a religious book. There are no examples relating to the Bible. The book links to the ideas of Socrates. If you wish to infuse religion into this book it would be simple to add in with comments you probably could make up off the top of your head; the same would apply for Athiests.

I felt this curriculum was great for teaching 28 formal logic fallacies. I have no major complaints about the curriculum. Having never been taught this material myself I learned things along with the students. After one or two read-throughs I felt capable of teaching the content. I liked that the book easily translated to use in a homeschool co-op with just minimal addition of other activities or more discussion than the book tells you to conduct. Yet the book also would work just fine at home with mom and one student.

The work that the students do for answering the questions is worthwhile and helpful to learn the fallacies. The questions are not stupid busywork. Doing those questions sometimes reveals an error in the student's (or teacher's) understanding of the nature of that fallacy, even when they thought they already understood it.

I feel the written parts of the book are easily understood, this is not complex writing. The real work comes with making sure the fallacy is understood and then wrangling with real life ideas to connect which fallacy is being committed, if any is at all. (Sometimes ads are just promotional and pursuasive and no fallacy is actually being committed.)

This curriculum is available as a student workbook without answers to the questions. The teacher manual has the full text in full size, as the student workbook with the answers, and some tests at the back to copy and use if desired. Having no prior education in informal fallacies I felt owning the teacher manual was necessary for me. Some of the answers were tricky to me, so I needed those answer keys.

Our co-op had roughly 45 minutes for each fallacy. We were able to cover the 28 fallacies in 13 courses 90 minutes in length. We usually did two fallacies a class but for the short chapters with easy concepts ones we added a third to make sure we got through the entire book in this session.

I highly recommend this curriculum.

I feel every person, child and adult, should be learning formal logic and logic in school. It's a crime that schools have stopped teaching this.

Another book from the publisher about logic is a book of formal logic called The Discovery of Deduction (see the 2010 expanded version). That is stated to be for grades 8 and up. The publisher says Art of Argument is not a prerequisite for that.

The last step is building one's own arguments and that is The Argument Builder for grades 9 and up. After reading passages of that book it seems to be written on a harder reading level compared to Discovery of Deduction and probably would help a student to have worked more with formal fallacies first so it seems natural to do this after both Art of Argument and Discovery of Deduction.

I will be teaching a homeschool co-op class using The Discovery of Deduction this spring.

This curriculum is readily available through homeschool curriculum suppliers. Sometimes you can find it on, but not always. Be sure you are buying the 2010 new and expanded edition of The Art of Argument!

Disclosure: I purchased this for my family's use and for use at the co-op. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.


Natalie said...

Thank you for this informative review of this product in a homeschool co-op! I have volunteered to teach this course in our co-op next year to a group of middle/high schoolers. I was wondering if you might be willing to share your syllabus and/or lesson plans, if you have them, with me. If you'd rather not, of course, I understand! Just thought I'd ask because it'd be a huge help :) You can e-mail me at onethingspoken(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!

ChristineMM said...

Hi Natalie,
The lesson plans were straightforward.

We found it took about 45 minutes per lesson. Our class time was 90 minutes once a week so we did 2 lessons a day.

Homework assigned to read X chapters & do the questions, write in their book.

In class we started by asking if there were any questions, how did they like that topic, etc. We skimmed page by page to touch on the topics. The scripts like a mini-play we assigned to students to read aloud. We did not let the performance lovers always read, we engaged some (or kept them awake) by making them read.

Then we went over the homework.

I of course read the chapters myself so I got it. The teacher manual has the answers. I read them through before because some I felt were confusing.

It sounds lame to say we went over the questions but in fact we discussed every single one. We found some kids had errors in understanding so we would discuss it and make sure everyone understood it.

The only thing we did at first was asked them to keep their eye out in newspapers they read or ads they saw for the fallacies. They did show and tell to share what they found (from current or any past topics). I saved those up and labeled them. I thought I'd make a display board but never did because our space was rented and we could not leave things in the room. Well it was a good idea, but it never came to fruition. The students loved seeing the real life current applications of the fallacies. We taught it in the fall so it was election season and some things were in the news. Sometimes we teachers told them stories if they admitted they didn't know of X giant current event thing happening. I also clipped some articles and things I came across in my daily reading to share the concrete examples. Truth be told students only brought in ads none were reading newspaper articles, well we hoped, but...

Our class was grades 7-10.

Since our class was long we took a short break in between to stretch and breathe.

The second book in the series Discovery of Deduction was more dry and painful to teach.