For Argument’s Sake, Let’s Teach Kids How To Argue

TArgI’m old (-ish). Well, I was until this week, anyway, when I read in the news that you’re not middle-aged until you hit your head on 60. This new rule (clearly made by a Boomer) means I’m young again. Ponce de León can go pound sand (in a swamp — a tricky business).

All kidding aside — and despite my newfound youth — in teaching parlance, I’m still old (-ish). You see, I’ve read a lot of teacher books by now. And I’ve been to umpteen professional development seminars where I felt I knew as much as (or, sadly in a few cases, more than) the presenter.

So, when I stumble upon a book that teaches me something AND teaches me how to teach something, I take notice. Teaching Arguments is one of those books. It goes beyond logos, pathos, and ethos (Chapter 6 in this book), taking the teaching of argument to another level (the mezzanine, maybe). It’s clearly written. And the ethos of the author is impressive. This young lady (Boomer effect strikes anew) knows her stuff.

True, the book’s target audience is high school teachers, but as an 8th-grade teacher, I always look at 9-12 stuff and say two things: “I can modify some of this and outright use some of it as is.” Then, a fan of talking, I say a third: “My kids can do this because some Russian dude whose name I constantly misspell — Vygotsky, maybe? — says it’s heady but not so heady that the handies can’t reach it.”

Actually, he didn’t say that, but I’m not so good at translations, so there.

Back to the book: You can start with the last chapter (I did) because it’s all about “Aristotle’s Guide for Being a Good Student.” Useful in September, it stresses “habits” over “abilities” because good academic habits are the great equalizers. They level the playing field.

Then I reversed to Chapter 1: “Starting with Open-Minded Inquiry” before moving on to Chapter 2’s practical “From Comprehension to Critique.” Chapters 3, 4, and 5 come in a bundle, as they say of communications these days. They are, in order, “Fostering a Deeper Understanding of Occasion, of Audience, and of Purpose.” Then it’s the EPL chapter you’d expect first (or maybe I would because that’s what I know and teach — poorly, I now see).

Yes, I could have waited until September to implement some of Fletcher’s ideas, but I figure, why rob these great kids of some of the skills before they go off to high school, so I’ve been using some of the stuff the past week or so — with good result, too! We read a NY Times opinion column by David Brooks and played “the believing game.” In a few days, we will revisit the same, only this time we’ll be playing “the doubting game.” My kids are used to the “one and done as quickly as possible game” when it comes to reading, so this is a nice change. A good habit, thank you.

One mark of a good teacher book is the size of the appendices with all of the handouts and examples. Seeing a long one is like a full stocking on Christmas morning. Unpack it slowly and enjoy! So yes, it’s been Christmas In April reading this. (Who says April is the cruelest month? T.S. Eliot can go pound sand with Ponce!)

Meaning? The book has a solid theoretical foundation BUT is loaded with practical ideas. Fletcher doesn’t stint when it comes to sharing. Now, if I can only get Jennifer Fletcher to run seminars and barnstorm her way East! It’s been a while since I went to PD and actually learned something. Remember, I’m old, but only in an -ish kind of way.

Nota bene: Also posted on amazon dot all-is-calm and Goodreads. Talk about the town crier!


4 thoughts on “For Argument’s Sake, Let’s Teach Kids How To Argue

  1. I am not a teacher, but as my kids were growing up, they had to present an argument to us to convince us why they did something , right or wrong. At times I wish we hadn’t, but I can see they were given a valuable tool. They learned to argument the stripes or spots off various animals. I expected at least one would become a lawyer, but they had better ideas.


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