During their seventh and eighth grade years, my students engage in a unique and highly popular course. Dialectic incorporates elements of both logic and rhetoric through the study of logical fallacies and practical debate. The disciplines of logic and rhetoric come together as students are challenged to carefully determine both what should be said and how to say it persuasively.
The Art of Argument by Aaron Larsen and Joelle Hodge serves as the textbook throughout the two year course. After being exposed to a fallacy through the text, students are encouraged to apply their newfound knowledge through some form of rhetorical exercise. For example, after learning about emotional appeals, students present a campaign speech or television commercial. Written exams are given over the substance of the text, while the presentations given during the application process are also graded.
Approximately two-thirds of a semester is centered on the text and related rhetorical exercises. The final one-third of the semester is set aside for debate. Students are introduced to a topic and exposed to potential points of view regarding it. After several class periods of group discussion, students are required to write an argument for either the affirmative or negative side of the issue. Although topics may encompass any number of subjects, the proposition debated must present two truly viable sides.
The debates take place during class time and study hall for a number of weeks, the critical goal being to ensure that every student competes in at least two preliminary rounds. After the “prelims,” the top eight teams advance to the “break” round. The top four teams from the quarter final pairings then advance to the semi final round. Finally, the top two teams meet one another in the final round. The final match is scheduled during a school assembly so that all the students in 6th-8th grades can enjoy the most sophisticated presentations of the tournament.
Parents, teachers, and administrators who have an interest and proficiency in the art of argument judge. Ballots are structured such that both content and presentation are considered, with a little more weight being given to substance.
Dialectic provides students with an opportunity to exercise their 12-14-year old natural desire to argue and challenge authority. The structure allows them to do this in a God-honoring environment where they are not allowed to make claims without appropriate decorum and evidentiary support. Better yet, they just might be leaning something.