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The Argument Builder / The Argument Builder, Teacher's Edition Review by Kathy Gelzer

Shelly Johnson
Classical Academic Press
3920 Market Street
Camp Hill, PA 17011

The Argument Builder, for 7th graders on up, is a companion to The Art of Argument, also from Classical Academic Press. While The Art of Argument seeks to instruct the student in logic fallacies, The Argument Builder is the other side of the coin--how to plan and build a good argument. This goal is achieved through the study of historical and modern arguments and through the use of the tools of argument. The Argument Builder is classical in its approach. Aristotle's "common topics" are the tools used: definition, testimony, comparison, relationship, and circumstance, as well as their corresponding subtopics.

The builder analogy flows into the book graphics. Common Topic pages, printed on an engineering background, are set off with a bold black margin on which are three Phillips screw heads. Lots of construction photo-icons are scattered throughout the text, and drafting-style fonts are used for many of the headings. Conservative parents will want to note that black-and-white photos of contemporarily clad teens in school and home settings decorate many of the pages.

The teacher's edition is identical to the student book except for the inclusion of a short introductory note, eight suggestions for the teacher, answers, and additional exercises. No specific guidelines are given as to how to teach a lesson or how to cover the book in a general school year. As there are 25 chapters, I'm assuming one and a half weeks per chapter would be a good place to start. Although the text is written to the student, it could be read by parent and student together or independently by the student.

The basic chapter format is as follows. Engaging text (including an ongoing hypothetical situation about a teen/parent curfew disagreement) precedes a set of written exercises. This scenario is probably a moot issue in most homeschooler's homes, but should our choice of curriculum even be presenting a situation where children are trying to persuade their parents to change their minds about a family rule? I wish a different example had been used. Furthermore, the text tends to assume a stereotypical rather than an ideal relationship between teens and parents.

An assortment of verb headings divide the chapter assignments into segments, such as: define, answer, practice, analyze, write, prepare, propose, and identify, just to name a few. The exercises range in length from one to nine pages, most of them in the two- to five-page range.

The text, though interesting, may be a bit simplistic in places; the written assignments are anything but. They are challenging and call for the student to generate the bulk of the answer. You will find few multiple-choice questions here. Young" 7th and 8th graders may need some help.

The back of the book includes an appendix on how to hold a debate, endnotes, two glossaries (one of terms and one of people), and a bibliography.

No space is wasted. The inside front cover has a list of key concept definitions, and on the inside back cover you will find a chart of logical fallacies.

Judging from the references to classrooms and fellow students, I assume this curriculum was not written with the homeschooler in mind. However, there is no reason why it could not be used effectively in the homeschool environment. It would also be excellent as a basis for a co-op or small group class.

This is a great blend of logic and rhetoric and shows how the two go hand in hand. Classical educators will want to look at this curriculum, but note that The Argument Builder spans the wide range of homeschool philosophies due to its user-friendly text with clear definitions and explanations.  

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2008