Dorothy Sayers, the famed mystery writer and proponent of classical education, described middle-schoolers as “pert.” Pert is a euphemism for argumentative and cheeky. Most who’ve had the pleasure of teaching a middle-schooler know what Sayers meant.
One common response to young teens’ cantankerousness is to clamp down. Don’t let them argue with you. Silence them before a disagreement turns into a shouting match. If possible, keep them seen but not heard.
Another common approach is to hand these young adults a blank check. Let them say what they want without challenge. Don’t question their opinions. Don’t question their attitudes. Permit them to express themselves, however that expression comes out.
Veritas doesn’t find either approach satisfying or right.
A better solution is what Sayers suggested. Teach these young adults how to argue well. Give them the tools they need to reason with aplomb. Some see this approach as proffering water pistols to pranksters.
You’ll get wet, yes, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll be helping children become adults. You’ll be equipping them to know what they believe and to defend it. You’ll be preparing them to stand on their own two feet.
Let’s teach them to argue well by teaching them logic. Let’s show them the importance of making their case. Let’s show them that a proper “argument” is one that produces more light than heat.
In a study of logic, students learn about claims and evidence. They learn about claims that must be true, claims that may be, and claims that can’t be. They learn ancient takes on the topic, and they hear from modern perspectives, as well. They learn about the power and usefulness of logic, and they learn about its limitations.
Parents and teachers who take this approach have a common but unexpected experience. They realize that their own use of logic needs shoring up. They come to this realization because their students take them there.
Mom and Dad want to have a conversation with their young-adult children. They make some claim about God, the world, or how things ought to be. What surprises them are the words that fall out of their children’s mouths in response. “That was an ad verecundiam fallacy, Dad. The authority you cited isn’t an authority on the topic at all.”
Dad gets wet, but he doesn’t get soaked. It’s good to teach teens how to argue well. It’s crucial to teach them how to do it with civility and charity.
Veritas sees training in logic as a tool, not a weapon. It shouldn’t be used to trounce an opponent. It shouldn’t be used to mask one’s own weaknesses. Logic is a set of skills and mental habits that should serve both truth and others.
There are two types of logic that students study: formal and informal. Formal logic is the abstract study of propositions, statements, and deductive arguments. It uses symbolic notation to express such structures and to test the validity of arguments. Informal logic is the study of logical fallacies in natural language. Taking two years to study logic—generally in 7th and 8th grade—is our recommendation.
Training middle-schoolers to argue well seems counterintuitive to some. Still, the best way to prepare youth for the adult road ahead is to help them pack what they’ll need. They’ll need to think clearly, reason soundly, and speak kindly. Teaching middle-schoolers how to argue may be counterintuitive, but it’s logical. It’s the next step toward their maturity.
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