Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dancing with Dialecticals: How Children, Teens, and Young Adults Argue...or Don't!

"...Be sure not to let your son be bred up in the art and formality of disputing, either practising it himself, or admiring it in others; unless instead of an able man, you desire to have him an insignificant wrangler, opiniator in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others; or, which is worse, questioning every thing, and thinking there is no such thing as truth to be sought, but only victory, in disputing. There cannot be any thing so disingenuous, so misbecoming a gentleman or any one who pretends to be a rational creature, as not to yield to plain reason and the conviction of clear arguments..." - John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Some parents may take quiet pride in the fact their children can verbally stand up for their beliefs and challenge authorities with which they disagree. But how well do our children argue, and are they more often children of reason or Locke's insignificant wranglers?

Research of elementary school children show, by-and-large, that students are able to voice their opinions and provide some support for their position, but that they are weak at listening to or analyzing others' opinions, a skill that seems to switch on more as students enter their adolescent years. Analysis of 4th graders' arguments showed frequent vague expressions, an absence of conclusions or line of reasoning, and an absence of appeal to general principles. When young children pressed their arguments, they resorted to more pragmatic methods or controlling discourse, like raising voices, repeating or exaggerating claims, claiming authority (without justification), or threatening or bribing. Hmmm.

Teens and young adults fared better in their argumentation skills, but also failed to meet adult levels because they aren't able to postulate two-sided arguments and were frequently confused about which was evidence and explanation of claims. Researchers have found college-attending students were better able to analyze arguments, but were particularly vulnerable to belief bias.

If all this makes you despair, don't. There is evidence that education helps. These studies do provide us with the developmental reminder that we aren't all alike, nor are we equally susceptible to reason. It's good too, to remember that we should urge our children to reason through their positions, and not fall into disagreeing for disagreement's sake.

The brain scan below shows good two-sided activity!

Modern History Sourcebook: John Locke (1632-1704): Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1692
Arguing to Learn pdf
Lack of Logic in Children's Arguments
Development of Argument Skills
From Dialogue to Two-Sided Argument - Persuasive Writing
Shouting, Repeating, and Looming in Children's Dialogues
Dialectical Reasoning
Improving Student's Ability to Argue
fMRI of Complex Causal Thinking pdf

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