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Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning Review by Willena Flewelling

Professor David Zarefsky
4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100
Chantilly, VA 20151-1232

Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning is a course taught by David Zarefsky, Professor of Argumentation and Debate and of Communication Studies at Northwestern University. Aimed at the high school level and beyond, this course teaches the student how to argue positively without being contentious or quarrelsome. More than a study in rhetoric, logic, or dialectic, it shows where argumentation fits with all three.

Like every other course I have seen from The Teaching Company, this one does not come cheap, but it delivers a lot for what you pay. It consists of 24 lectures, 30 minutes each, available in various formats: DVD, videotape, audio CD, audio download, or audio cassette tapes. Each format comes with a course guidebook containing outlines of all the lessons. Also available is a two-part Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook, containing all of the lessons word-for-word, plus outlines and diagrams.

This is an introductory course in that it does not presume prior study of argumentation, but it does not stop there. It is a thorough and systematic treatment of the subject. Equally a course in argument and in reasoning, it teaches how to persuade others that what you think is right. It also teaches how to judge and answer the arguments of others.

As outlined on the website, Professor Zarefsky teaches that the tools of formal logic, while essential, are not adequate in deciding most controversial issues, and this course shows more useful approaches. Topics covered include the following: the three parts of an argument (a claim, evidence, and an inference linking the evidence to the claim), the distinctive categories that all arguments fit into, the three kinds of evidence that can be advanced to prove that something is true, and the six kinds of inference that link evidence to a claim.

Though the course was not designed specifically as a homeschool curriculum, it can easily be adapted to a variety of teaching methods and learning situations. Unfortunately the DVDs I received are far too quiet on the computer for even one person to hear, let alone my children in a small group setting. However, they play loud and clear on our DVD audio system as we watch on the TV screen.

This course would be beneficial to anyone high school age and above. Everyone interacts with other people, and differences will inevitably come up. It is good to be able to work through those differences to an equitable solution. The course helps you learn how to think through your arguments and keep them plausible and how to keep emotion from overriding those arguments.

The Teaching Company has chosen a topic that is very relative to our lives and a lecturer who presents it in an effective and engaging way. The video is professionally done and is appealing to the eye. I am looking forward to using it with my children in the coming school year.

Product review by Willena Flewelling, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2006