Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Argument Builder - A Review

If I were playing the word association game at a party, and someone said, “build”, I would not immediately reply with “argument”.  To my non-trained mind, an argument is something that just happens spontaneously, and usually when my emotions are running high.

Enter The Argument Builder: Constructing an Argument Piece by Piece by Shelly Johnson, published by Classical Academic Press (CAP).  I’ve used their Latin materials for a few years now, so when I had the chance to review a copy of Argument Builder, I was intrigued.  Even more so when I read this passage from the first chapter:
Right now, you might feel a little uncomfortable with the word argument because it seems that it always involves fighting, tension, hostility, and hurt feelings.  Although this unpleasantness can be present when people argue, it doesn’t have to be.  The Latin word argumentum means ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’.  Therefore, when you have an ‘argument,’ it means that you supply the evidence or proof for what you believe.
From the forward, the purpose of The Argument Builder is “to train you in the art of building a strong argument”.   Using the Common Topics method, developed by Aristotle, the text takes you through all five of these common topics (Definitions, Testimony, Comparison, Relationship, Circumstance) while developing a hypothetical argument about curfew. 

The text is comprised of 25 chapters, with an appendix on debate techniques.  Each of the first 22 chapters includes a exercises not only in defining terms and answering basic questions about the topics introduced, but also in analyzing and identifying arguments from a wide variety of authors, scholars, and statesmen.  The final 3 chapters of the book cover a cumulative review, a brief introduction to logical fallacies, and instructions on how to hold a debate.  The Teacher’s Edition - a necessary component - includes not only the answers to the text exercises, but suggestions and recommendations for extending the material.  For further support, CAP also offers an online class taught by the author.

I am particularly thrilled to find this text - we’ll be adding it in for our high school students, as a component of their logic/philosophy studies.  Especially attractive to me is the author’s inclusion of primary source documents  from history as a source of analytical exercises. The Argument Builder is easy to understand, clearly laid out and provides great training in analyzing and building arguments.    As a high school course, this could be done in one semester by an ambitious student, but might be best spread out over the course of a year, especially if you intend to include the debate component. 

Paired with Discovery of Deduction, another CAP title, the Art of Argument makes the study of logic understandable and accessible to high school students, homeschooled or otherwise. 

Now for the nitty gritty:  I was provided a free review copy of this text in exchange for this review.  I would have panned it if I didn’t like it - I’m honest like that - but really, it’s a great text.

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