Essentials of Argument – Academic Argumentation and Debate


Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18

As learners explore and apply the principles of argumentation, they’ll learn how to read academic research papers, examine controversial topics, learn to be critical in academic inquiry, analyze and utilize primary source documents, engage in argumentative discussions, and construct argumentative academic essays.

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This class will help students sharpen their critical thinking skills and teach them how to make convincing arguments.

Horace, the Roman writer, declared, “Concordia discors”—Harmony in discord.

St. Augustine implored, “Audi partem alteram”—Hear the other side.

Fredrick Douglass proclaimed, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Cicero stated, “Cedant arma togae; concedant laurea linguae”— Let arms yield to the toga; let the laurel yield to the tongue.


Argumentation is often defined as the study of practical reasoning—the process of justifying decisions, in the presence of opposition, made under conditions of uncertainty (usually lack of complete information and conflicting viewpoints).

Although argumentation and persuasion are inextricably linked—one argues in order to persuade—the traditional assumption about argumentation is that it is addressed to knowledgeable audiences and tries to adhere to high standards of evidence of reasoning.

Oral defense of a PhD thesis/dissertation before a doctoral examination committee is perhaps our paradigm example of argumentation within the academic tradition, while political debates are good examples of persuasion, in that they are addressed to a very large audience with differing levels of knowledge, often oversimplify complex issues, and relying heavily on existing group prejudices and emotional associations.


Research shows that students who have difficulty constructing arguments also have difficulty writing academic essays. Without a solid understanding of how to construct arguments, students tend to make claims without supporting them with facts, documentation, or the perspective of authors. They also tend to accept facts or quotations from document sources unquestionably.


This class will provide students with powerful argumentative thinking tools that will help them to develop an overall understanding of the concept of deliberative academic argumentation. Learning the skills of critical questioning has an encouraging effect on the quality of group discussions, learners’ involvement and engagement, and student-to-student interaction. This, in turn, helps students to use specific components of the argumentation process including: counterarguments, rebuttals, reservations, and collectively resolving to the most reliable conclusions. 

Teaching students the skills of collaborative discourse and argumentation in social science classrooms foster greater conceptual learning, the co-construction of knowledge, and content understanding. Research shows that this acquisition of knowledge is reflected in oral discussions and in students’ written arguments.

In this class, students will develop the skills to ask critical questions, take a clear stance in an argument, identify other-side arguments or counterarguments, and use rebuttals to weaken other-side arguments or counterarguments as a means to strengthen their stance. These skills will be utilized in both argumentative discussions (debate) and argumentative academic essays— both of which will involve document (source) integration and historical interpretation.

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

Our approach to academics helps learners view traditional disciplines in unconventional ways. With immersive classes that cross disciplines, learners stretch themselves both within and beyond conventional academic pathways, while small classes encourage close collaboration between learners and instructors. Today, Polyhistoria is the only comprehensive online learning platform teaching in-depth, cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers.

(Read more about our teaching philosophy.)

This class aims to help students increase their ability to:

  • Learn to be critical in academic inquiry
  • Evaluate academic research with reasonable skepticism
  • Conduct research, synthesize data, and analyze the quality of evidence
  • Become self-critical writers
  • Explore the best ways to refute counterclaims
  • Study how to evaluate risks and frame issues
  • Enhance critical thinking and writing skills
  • Hone debate skills

This course is designed to increase effective observation and critical thinking skills and to encourage learner interaction. We encourage rigorous (but not ad hominem) discourse, questioning textbooks and teachers alike, and tirelessly trying to improve what we do. We believe in creating a truly welcoming space, where learners can come together with understanding, dignity, and compassion, and where diverse backgrounds and life experiences are embraced.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

Assignments will be posted on the classroom wall each week for students and will include reading, researching, and writing. It will also include weekly participation in the threaded discussions on the classroom wall.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 2 – 3 hours per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18