This is the second installment in my series on how to make a low or no cost high school level studies without the use of a curriculum. This week I am discussing assertions and assumptions.
Begin by teaching the concept of an assertion. An assertion is just a statement, claim or main point concerning a particular issue. It can usually be found as the thesis of an article, or sometimes it can be found in the conclusion, particularly if it is a very short argument.
Assumptions or reasons offered to support a conclusion is called a premise. Assumptions are ideas or opinions that the writer takes for granted the reader will agree with. (I will go more into the types and problems of assumptions later.)
Your student can locate an assertion by asking the question, "What is the writer trying to convince me of or prove?" There are some words that your student can look for that give clues that an assertion or conclusion is being stated: therefore, then, so and thus. Look through an article or two that has a stated assumption with your student and have him pick out the assertion or conclusion of the article.
Unstated assumptions can be a little more tricky to recognize. To find these, I use the classic form of Premise, Premise, Conclusion. The classic example of this form is:
Premise: Socrates is a man.
Premise: All men are mortal.
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
I usually teach more about this type of logic with the Classical Logic workbook, Traditional Logic, but it is not necessary as long as your student is able to pick out the unstated parts of the arguments in articles. Any time a premise is left out of the argument, the author is making an assumption. I like to look at newspaper articles because they often have assumptions. I have the student answer the question, "What has to be true for the conclusion of the article to be true?" Assumptions are often related to beliefs and values. Words such as good, bad, right, wrong, justified, should or should not are clues that the writer is giving his value judgement. It might be good at this point for your student to learn more about the author of the piece. Whatever he can learn about the author might give him clues as to why he wrote this interpretation, what his values and beliefs are and how this influenced the article. What assumptions does the author make? Does the author have any reason to distort the evidence?
By this point, your student can probably see how important it is to be knowledgeable about the topics related to the articles he will be reading. All those years of gathering facts are beginning to pay off. What he doesn't already know, he should be, at this point, able to research on his own. The best articles have a lot of data within the article itself to support his argument. This evidence can come from many sources including documents, photographs and statements. Lack of this evidence weakens the whole argument, so your student should look out for sources cited (and later when they write their own papers, they will see the importance of citing their own sources). Help them look for citations and quotations.
So, what is the difference between middle school level and high school level learning?
Begin to show your middle school student assertions and assumptions in articles so that by the time he is in high school he will be able to be able to read an article and easily pick out what the assertions and assumptions of any article presented to him. This leads to his also being able to evaluate this sources of the article and the reasoning behind the article's premise, which I will discuss in future posts.
In the next post in this series, I will discuss evaluating sources.