Thursday, June 7, 2018

Memoria Press: Traditional Logic (Homeschool Review Crew)

Memoria Press has become a go-to favorite for us; as time has gone on, I've come to appreciate the Classical approach to education. We have done several reviews with them in the past, as well as purchased many of their curriculum programs.   This time, we had the opportunity to study their Traditional Logic I and II programs. Even though we would only have time to actually study with one program, Memoria Press generously sent us both semesters' curriculum, Traditional Logic I Complete Set and Traditional Logic II Complete Set, to review. Each contains a Textbook, Student Workbook, Quizzes and Tests, Teacher's Key (with answers to both the workbook and the quizzes/tests), and instructional DVDs. The program was written and presented by Martin Cothran.

Mr. Cothran has compiled an impressive curriculum vitae in the classical field. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from the Simon Greenleaf School (Trinity University).  Currently, he is the director of the Classical Latin School Association and editor of Memoria Press' quarterly Classical Teacher magazine.  Mr. Cothran was a Latin, Logic, and Rhetoric Instructor at Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Kentucky (also part of the Memoria Press family of educational opportunities).  Local (Cincinnati Enquirer, Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald Leader)  and National (New York Times, USA Today) outlets have published his writings on current issues, and he has appeared on nearly all major US national television networks.  This program is presented by an educator who is both well-versed and well-respected in his field.

This is a program intended for advanced middle schoolers (grades 7-8) or high school students.  (Memoria Press places it in their 9th-grade curriculum package.) This is meant to be a two-semester program (one high school credit) program.  While it is a language-based program, I don't intend to count it under "language arts" on either child's transcripts and plan to mark it as a humanities elective credit instead. Regardless of which high school year it is completed in, this program will nicely fill that "fourth-year social studies" space.

Matthew recently completed a Logic and Critical Thinking course that I pieced together from various resources, so my original plan was for him to work on the program for the review period, and then pass it on to Celia. Since the Student Workbooks are single-student consumables, I'd purchase a new Logic I workbook, and continue with the unused Logic II books. Much to Matthew's chagrin, I'm changing the rules.  He's now going to complete both semesters' courses, and his sister is getting her own set of student books.

Why?  Well, I could say "Because I'm Mom, that's why," but that wouldn't be a constructive review, would it? After the first few lessons, I have realized that this Logic course is different from what he has already done.

About Traditional, Formal Logic

Those critical thinking courses were based on modern, material logic that taught him to evaluate arguments based on math, science, and truths provable by independent confirmation.  Think of it as making your arguments "fact-checker proof," or being the fact-checker seeking the flaws in another's argument. Traditional Logic is completely different and based on Aristotelian logic. I think the best way to describe the difference is to share this comparison from the article "Zombie Logic" by  Mr. Cothran:

Traditional logic is not a calculus by which we can “solve” for the truth. Modern logic speaks the language of the computer, which was created by men; traditional logic speaks the language of men, who were created by God. While modern logic is how computers think, traditional logic is how human beings think. We are not computational beings and our language is not some kind of mathematical calculus. When we think and speak and write, we do it not as human machines, but as logocentric (language-centered) creatures. 

Aristotelian logic does not seek confirmation from outside truths, but rather uses deductive reasoning to create arguments where there is no choice but for a statement to follow itself to a truthful conclusion. To quote Mr. Cothran again, this time from his article Thinking Logically About Logic"It is not the purpose of formal logic to discover truth. That is the business of everyday observation and, in certain more formal circumstances, empirical science. Logic serves only to lead us from one truth to another."

Formal logic goes back to the foundation, or form, of creating an argument.  It's not "formal" in the sense of "fancy" vs. not, but "form" as defined by construction or appearance.  Traditional Logic I builds to the creation of syllogisms, the concept of "If A is B, and B is C, then A is also C." The course includes the Porphyrian Tree, the four logical statements, how they can be opposites or equivalent, and the seven rules for statement validity. Traditional Logic II builds upon the basic syllogism, introducing complex and oblique syllogisms and hypothetical reasoning.  Here, the student begins to build logical arguments. Early examples are theological and philosophical, but later arguments are more "relevant to current events," touching on political and social themes.

The Traditional Logic program

The program is easy to use.  The program was designed originally to be used in a "cottage school" format, where students met for in-person instruction one day and completed the rest of the work at home.  On the first day of the Traditional Logic class' school week, there would be a teacher presentation.  Here, this presentation, with instruction by Martin Cothran, is provided by a DVD video. Each lecture is about twenty minutes long.

Both sets of videos are professionally recorded.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.  We have had some programs where the videos are just of such poor production quality that it ruins the program; no matter how good the content  The sound is clear and crisp, Mr. Cothran's voice is well modulated, and the in-lecture slides are well-presented.  So far in Traditional Logic I, there has only been one thing that has been difficult for us to understand, and that may have been because we are using a small portable DVD player to watch the lectures.  If you were using a larger screen (a computer monitor or TV), it may not be an issue.

Instead of a split screen, Traditional Logic II makes the slides full screen. It has edited the presentations to alternate between Mr. Cothran visage and the slides. The slides have significantly more written content, so I think this is a wise choice.

The programs also have different visual appearances. The books in the first part of the Traditional Logic program are predominantly blue; the text has a blue cover and the other books and the DVDs labeled with blue font.  The books for latter half of the course have red as their dominant color.  I appreciate this because it makes it easier to tell at a glance which books go together.  The slides as well are different colors; even though the first semester books and second-semester slides are both blue, I don't think these have any bearing on identification.

One thing that was a slight bother was the text and workbook pages referred to in the video were not the same place where the materials were in our books. For example, Chapter 2, Day 3's workbook sections began on page 15, not page 21 as indicated.  It is something I mention because we had a "Wait, where is he saying?" if we tried to open to the page, but Mr. Cothran is very clear about what material he is referring to.  We just stick a pencil or a post-it note at the beginning of the chapter as we start the DVD.

(Based on the copyright dates, the DVDs are from 2003, while the Workbook is a Second Edition, copyright 2016 and the text is a 3rd edition, copyright 2017.  Traditional Logic II has a similar incongruency, with 2005, 2nd Ed/2017, 2nd Ed/2017, respectively.  The videos account for their anticipated longevity in discussions.)

The "bookwork" days are numbered One through Four.  Day One expects the student to quickly skim the entire textbook chapter - four to eight pages, including graphics, and then return to the beginning to carefully read the Introduction section.  Days Two through Five involve going back to read other specific sections of the chapter more carefully, and then answer accompanying questions in the student workbook.  These days take him about the same amount of time.

Daily work in Traditional Logic I is brief yet comprehensive and mastery-based. Traditional Logic II adds on weekly writing assignments.  The program acknowledges this imbalance, and suggests beginning the second program before the end of the first "calendar" semester; if this is impossible, it also suggests sections that can be skipped without losing any overall quality from the course. I think that if time was an issue, one could comfortably do the first semester at two lessons per week without it becoming overly time-consuming and displacing the rest of the day's work.  In the second semester, Case Studies for each chapter and a Weekly Analysis writing assignment are added to the workload.

Celia is new to homeschooling this year, so we're still figuring out what sort of schedule works best for her.  I might consider keeping the same timetable, with the Analysis being assigned on Monday and due on Friday, allowing her to figure out how to spread the work out.  Matthew, however, tends to have a more "out of sight, out of mind" mentality.  Traditional Logic II might be better planned with doing the video plus Day 1's workbook on Monday, Exercises for Days 2 and 3 on Tuesday, Day 4 and the Case Study on Wednesday, and then leaving Thursday and Friday to complete the Weekly Analysis Assignment. It does increase the daily workload, but it gives him clear beginning and ending points for his daily tasks.  As a 9th grader, if she takes longer, I'm not as concerned, but if Matthew wants to finish 12th grade on time, he will have to stick to a firmer schedule.

Once again, Memoria Press has filled a need we didn't think we had.  Critical thinking skills are, sadly, a skill that many lack in today's society.  This is a credit-worth program I would recommend to all homeschooling high schoolers, and I would even suggest that non-homeschoolers consider it as well.   I intend for Celia to do a similar "modern logic" program like Matthew did (instead of repeating his program, I have my eye on Memoria Press' Material Logic: A Course in How to Think,  also written by Martin Cothran) but I think having this traditional, formal program first will help her develop her reasoning skills better.  (I'm not sure if arming a teen girl with better-crafted arguments is a good thing or not, but it will serve her well into adulthood, right?) Despite going "backward" in presentation, I can see where this will still help Matthew craft better arguments going forward; when your truths follow logically, there is less opportunity for gaps for the "other side" to refute.  The first semester sets a foundation, and the second applies this knowledge to practical situations, making this nearly 2400-year-old thought process very contemporary.

Click the links below to read our past reviews of other Memoria Press curricula.  For this round of reviews, in addition to Traditional Logic,  Crew families have been studying Composition and Penmanship with Memoria Press. Click the banner below to read their reviews.

First Start Reading
Second Grade Literature
The Iliad and The Odyssey
Prima Latina

New American Cursive & Traditional Logic {Memoria Press Reviews}

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