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Overview of the Dialectic Stage

by Christine Miller

From Concrete to Analytical

A child usually enters the dialectic stage sometime during the 5th through 7th grades. In formal education, this stage occurs in middle school, 7th through 9th grades. A distinct shift in focus takes place for the child in this stage. He is maturing in brain development and cognitive skills from the concrete thought of the grammar stage, to the analytical thought of the dialectic stage. The effect is cumulative; concrete thought is not abandoned; analytical thought is added and developed alongside the concrete.

Concrete thought in the grammar stage zeros in on the facts, on what is. Analytical thought in the dialectic stage zeros in on the issues underlying the facts: why what is the way it is, and how what is the way it is. Understanding begins to grow as it is added to knowledge. At this stage, why things are the way they are becomes important. A child begins to question his knowledge, to test the facts he has learned in the grammar stage, to see if they are in fact true. This is a very important step in the development of mature thinking skills, and we should not quash it. If what he has been taught is true, then we need have no fear of it being questioned, as truth only proves it nature under examination. It is the darkness and the lie that runs from the searchlight.

Children at this stage do need to understand that while questioning, examination, and analyzation are permitted and encouraged, disrespect and dishonor are not permitted. They should be taught that examination does not automatically carry with it an attitude of disrespect. As parents and teachers we can help convey this message by not becoming defensive when something we hold dear is examined by our dialectic stage children. This is actually very important practice for the development of our children’s interpersonal skills down the road. When they leave home and begin a career or family, the proficiencies they learn in the dialectic stage will help them be able to agree and disagree with bosses, co-workers, husbands or wives, and others in their lives, respectfully and honorably, without taking things personally, while still getting to the heart of an issue..

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The Science of Logic

Teaching dialectic stage children Logic, then, the science of reasoning well, of determining truth from error and of valid inference, is critical. Logic gives children the tools they need to question accurately and arrive at valid conclusions. Dorothy Sayers, in her famous essay The Lost Tools of Learning, says about its importance:

“Is not the great defect of our education today--a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned--that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think?”

In our homeschool, the subject of Logic replaces the subject of Grammar in the curriculum. Logic includes the study of inductive and deductive reasoning. Formal Logic deals with deductive reasoning, and Applied Logic, of which the scientific method is a part, deals with inductive reasoning. A more thorough explanation of Logic can be found in The Subject of Logic.

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Analysis of the Subjects

In the other subjects, the focus is on the analysis of the subject material. In history, a grammar stage child wants to know what happened; a dialectic stage child wants to know why it happened the way it did. Events and persons can be compared and contrasted; cause and effect can be explored. In the classical languages, the transfer is made from learning vocabulary exclusively to learning grammar - how the vocabulary is strung together. In science, the spotlight moves from learning the facts of the natural world, to learning why and how the laws of nature affect the natural world the way they do. Geography, the study of the physical features and the nations of the earth in the grammar stage, is in our homeschool replaced with government, the study of how the nations of the earth organize themselves into functioning societies, why this government or that one is either a good or bad organization, and what the Bible says about it all.

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Teaching by Discussion

Just as a child’s thinking changes in the dialectic, the method of teaching should also change. The grammar stage method of presenting the facts and memorizing them is no longer adequate. That is not to say that facts are no longer encountered or presented; facts will always be with our children. New facts will be added to the storehouse of those already embedded. But to facts is added understanding in the dialectic. Our children are not replacing facts, but gaining a new depth about them. They are analyzing facts, rather than simply accumulating them as they did in the grammar stage.

Therefore games and drills are replaced with discussions. Discussion is one of the most effective tools of teaching in the dialectic stage, in my opinion. Examples of discussions will follow in each of the subject articles, but in general, begin by asking questions: Why and how did the Roman republic degenerate to an empire? The course of the discussion should attempt to address the questions and answer them, if possible. Sometimes there is no one right answer. Sometimes the value of the lesson is in the process of arriving at an answer, and not necessarily in the answer itself. But whatever conclusions are reached should be evaluated in the light of God’s Word. All answers need to be examined for validity - hence the importance of Logic.

Jim Nance, Logic teacher at Logos School and author of Intermediate Logic, says this about the importance of discussion in the dialectic stage:

“In the teaching of other subjects one should use the tools of learning which fit best in the logic stage, namely, discussion and debate. In discussion, the student should be required not only to give the correct answers but to justify his answers. He must be continually challenged with, “Yes, but why is that so?” Teach a child what is true, and then require him to explain why it is true. If he cannot, then he has not yet fully learned it as truth. In debate, the child will learn not only how to justify his answers, but how to do so when challenged by an opponent who is actively looking for any flaws in his reasoning. There is no better substitute for discussion and debate in the classroom.”

Other questions that may be addressed in other subjects could include: How does the tilt of the earth affect the climate at the Arctic Circle? Why would a republican government be preferable to a communist one? Why is the square of the hypoteneuse the sum of the square of its sides? Would this king’s actions have received God’s approval, and why or why not? What would have been a more biblical solution to this dilemma? Why would God command us to be not unequally yoked? “Why?” can be asked of any fact, in any subject of the dialectic curriculum.

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Dialectic Stage Summary

As a child enters the dialectic stage, his cognitive skills mature to add analytical thought to the concrete of the grammar stage. Analytical thinking zeros in on the why and how, as a child begins to question his knowledge to see if it is in fact true. This process should not discouraged, although learning to question while remaining respectful and honorable is a necessary trait to be developed. Therefore learning Logic, the science of valid inference, is critical to a child at this stage. Without it he cannot learn to question accurately and arrive at valid conclusions. The focus of the other subjects in the curriculum also shifts from simply learning the subject material to analyzing the subject material. This requires that our teaching methods also shift from the memorization of the grammar stage, to the discussion of the dialectic stage. The conclusions drawn from the discussions must always be examined in the light of God’s Word, and according to the rules of Logic. The dialectic stage is a challenging but exciting juncture on a child’s road to maturity.

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Overview of the Dialectic Stage
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