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Discussing Content that is Not Cut and Dried

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Ds is taking Traditional Logic II this semester. He is doing well with the logical forms. This course branches out and has the student identify the logical syllogisms present or implied in editorials and in classical works. This past week one of his assignments was to state categorically a syllogism based on a quote of Plato's from the Symposium, to test it for logical validity and then discuss his own view of Plato's argument. He did great at putting the quote into syllogistic form and testing it's validity. When it came to his own view, it wasn't bad but because of my own more mature understanding of the world, I had a slightly different view and wanted to discuss it with him. The discussion ended very badly. I had explained to him that this sort of discussion is not a matter of being "right" or "wrong". In fact, this sort of discussion where you dig deeper to really look at issues from different angles is what I love about philosophy and other "soft sciences". But he didn't see it this way and felt like my "have you thought of it this way" comments as criticizing him. How do you discuss content like this? He pointed out that Plato had thought about Love (the content of the syllogism) for years and it was unfair to expect him to have it all figured out at age 15. :glare:

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I am not sure I have a good answer, but I can tell you what we do in our family.

Since a young age, our kids have witnessed countless sessions of intellectual sparring between DH, me, and friends. At every dinner party or lunch with friends, there will be some sort of discussion, often about controversial issues, for the sheer enjoyment of discussing. If we happen to agree, one person will play Devil's advocate. I think growing up with this kind of background creates a discussion culture, and both kids are now very happy to have discussions with us where they argue for different points of view than we do. Especially DD positively enjoys taking a contrary position.


Perhaps it might help if you have more discussions with your DS outside of his school work, so that he can get used to the idea that disagreeing does not mean a critique of his work or his person, but that this is simply how an intellectual exchange functions.

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First, let me say that I think it's wonderful that you and your son are using TL II: we loved the TL-ML series. I worked through that book with my son and several other students in our co-op so most of the discussions were peer-to-peer. The other two parents and I did sometimes "nudge" discussions, but usually we let things proceed at the level of understanding the students had reached so long as it was clear they understood the assignment.


Your post reminds me of something my son told me after he'd finished high school. He sometimes felt intimidated by our discussions in classes we did at home because he was all too conscious of his relative "youth and inexperience." However, he didn't want to admit he felt intimidated--so I learned this after the fact. :blushing:


I like regentrude's suggestion of more discussions outside of school work; cultivating the art of arguing takes preacitce. Very often our "in class" discussions were perfunctory--sometimes worse. Our best talks came at lunchtime. By ds' middle school years, I'd already reached an age when after lunch read alouds and discussion usually ended up with me dozing off, so we mixed reading aloud with meal prep and cleanup. We discussed our reading over lunch, and sometimes I'd slip in other topics by saying...ya know I was thinking some more about __________ and wonder if________? It worked tolerably well. :coolgleamA:

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Agreeing with what has been said. We've been having these type of discussions for a while. This year they are deeper, but I try to keep an on when his limited life experience starts to guide his answers. For instance, we were discussing perception and his thought pattern was good, yet some of replies were wrong but age appropriate.


I try to point out that in every field where there are passionate people, there will be disagreements. Math, Latin, science, history, and of course philosophy as you discuss some of those big nebulous questions.


I've also spent several years playing devil's advocate or stating things like "other people might believe this...". Since he's an only child, I try to bring 2-3 different perspective to our conversations so he gets an idea that it's not just one is right one is wrong. I want him to see the scope of answers, doing that in a lot of subjects where class interaction might be valuable. Sometimes I don't share my opinion as my own. Or I pull information from another source and quote them as the different perspective.


He's right in the fact that 15 has a limited world experience. However, he needs to understand that part of wisdom is learning about the ideas of others who had years to ponder their thoughts.


I think it's hard sometimes because at 15 my son is starting to realize he's not as smart as he had thought. Things are just getting harder. I'm still his mom, and his teacher. He's trying to grow up and I'm trying to let him at the right pace and with the right lessons. I feel like I'm constantly resetting the scales.


ETA: We started some of these conversations over movies. One of my favorite movies, he hates. We disagree. It's seems okay to not like the same movies, they're preference not fact.

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I think this sort of discussion goes better if you also routinely have discussions about things about which your child has more experience than you do.

It doesn't have to be something deep. It can be something trivial like the best way to accomplish something.


I think they go better if you don't have any sort of agenda. I don't know about your son, but my sons could tell when I had a need to convince them of something and when I didn't. Discussions about things that I felt strongly about and wanted them to feel the same about weren't really discussions and they knew it. They were Mum explains the way the world works sessions rather than true discussions, ones in which Mum could be swayed. If it is a subject about which I want them to agree with me, then I tend to just tell them what I think first. When I undestand it, I present the other side and then we go on to discuss why this doesn't work for our family (or in some cases, why we think it is wrong), but I try not to label those circumstances as "discussions". Sometimes they do turn into discussions because after I have told them what I think, they tell me where they think I am wrong and we can argue. Sometimes there is discussion of the elaborating type where they agree with me and can offer examples or point out aspects I haven't thought about. Sometimes I just stayed out of it all together and let my two sons discuss with each other. (This happened more and more as we got used to the questions in TWEM.)


As time went along and my sons became older and began to have experiences in areas that I did not, we began to have more discussions that led to insights for us all. Now this happens often. Sometimes I tell them that I remain unconvinced. Sometimes I convince them of my point of view (but don't make them say so). Sometimes they convince me of their point of view.


I try really hard to avoid situations in which I ask them what they think about something only to tell them their thoughts are wrong.


So here is what has worked for us:


We have lots of discussions about things within their experience, things where their experience is as valid as mine, things where they have more experience than I do, things having to do with male/female (where their experience is different than mine and that is obviously ok). Most of these took place out of school.


I ask their advice about things. I let them solve problems for me. This leaves me saying, "But what if..." and them saying, "Because..." In other words, lots of experience with the power balance being the other way around.


I try to provide lots of experiences on their own, with other people in other places. This makes for much more interesting discussions. They can say, "But the Aboriginals say ..." and then get to watch me think about that.


I am honest and up front about my motives in discussing something. This is where it helps to be using general discussion questions like TWEM for literature. Mine refuse to do the Socratic discussion thing with their mother. They will do it with other people but somehow they feel betrayed when I make them do it with me. If we are discussing something where I want them to agree with me, I go first and tell them what I think, then ask them what they think. If I do it that way around, they don't feel attacked.


I tell them when I am being Devil's advocate.


I try to avoid asking them about things that they haven't thought about and have no experience with. That seems rather unfair.


I let them be undecided. We all have things that we can argue both ways. Why should they as teenagers have it all figured out? I hope they don't have it all figured out. Lots of things are fun to think about without coming to any decision.


I let them tell me they don't have enough information to discuss something. I want to encourage them to think but I definately would rather not encourage them to form opinions based on little information. It seems to me that many programs ask students to do exactly this. They probably mean to get the students thinking about things, and I agree that is good, but I they often ask students to give evidence of that by asking them to present something in what seems like a final, decided form. Perhaps that is just my inexperience, though? I could be wrong?


I totally sympathize with your problem. I had a bunch of discussions that ended equally badly until I figured out how to avoid it. I still go wrong, sometimes, even with my oldest, who is 25.



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I would like to encourage you to keep at it.


My two oldest have specifically thanked me for teaching them to spar intellectually. Specifically. It's so much easier to shine in college-level class discussions when you know how to support an argument rather than just air your ungrounded opinion.




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I think this sort of discussion goes better if you also routinely have discussions about things about which your child has more experience than you do.

It doesn't have to be something deep. It can be something trivial like the best way to accomplish something.


Yes....I'm no master of conversations but I do try to do this....It seems like each of ours has/had as a teen some area of expertise they had been working on where they knew more than I did and I could seek information from them....I realize this is not logic level discussions, but it can have a give and take which can then translate to other areas....



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