Blood on the River is a very well-regarded 2006 young adult historical novel by Eliza Carbone. Told from the point of view of 12 year old English orphan Samuel Collier, it is set in 1606 – 1611 and tells the story of the settlement of the Jamestown colony in Virginia, from the erection of the first domiciles, to the building of the fortress that would protect the fragile colony, to the “Starving Time” in the winter of 1609-10, and beyond.
Threaded throughout the novel there are conflicts between the British aristocracy (which both sponsors the trip, in the form of the Virginia Company, and leads it, in the persons of several Captains) and commoners, and between the colonists and the native population of Virginia. These conflicts form the heart of the novel’s concerns and interests. This argument-based project brings these conflicts together in a debatable question that plays itself out in the classroom in the form of a mock trial that puts the British aristocracy on trial for, in effect, originating the violent oppression of the Native American population that Blood on the River anticipates and (in its closing pages) foretells.
Former Modern Language Association President (2008), prominent education theorist, and ACE founding adviser, Gerald Graff, tells a story in his essay “Hidden Intellectualism” of how he learned to be an intellectual not in school, which he really didn’t like, but by arguing about sports (especially baseball, especially the Cubs) with his friends. Graff sees his story as containing an important lesson for the improvement of K-12 American public education.
Argument-Centered Education embraces this lesson through the resources we produce, the training we conduct, and the implementation coaching we provide. To take two recent examples of argument-centered projects we have work on with partner schools: (1) the Athens vs. Sparta Project debatifies the sometimes-esoteric study of ancient Greece and its seminal influence on Western civilization, and (2) our Cosmetics, Plastic Surgery, and Authentic Beauty Project accesses teens’ (and not just teens’) preoccupation with physical appearance and academizes it into an argument-based, sustained study.
Ancient Greece is often considered the birthplace of Western Civilization. When we study the place and time of ancient Greece — in, for example, Humanities, World Studies, European History, Civics, or Government — we are studying seminal antecedents of the United States — social, cultural, educational, political. One angle in this content is to contrast the primary city-states, and Peloponnesian War antagonists, Athens and Sparta.
This multi-layered argument-based project has students study the two city-states through five domains of these comparable but contrasting societies: economy, education, government, military, and treatment of women & slaves. Students engage in close examination of primary and secondary documents, extensive written and oral discussion of the arguments in these documents, and Table Debates (with an argumentative writing component).
Photosynthesis is one of the most essential natural processes studied in biology. Students can understand very little about plants, trees, vegetation, and crops without understanding the process by which they convert sunlight and its energy, in combination with carbon dioxide and water, into carbohydrates and oxygen (and a bit of gaseous water).
This activity builds students’ understanding of the process of photosynthesis by having them cluster information about the process of photosynthesis, having them critique other students’ information clustering, and then finally having them respond to other students’ critiques.
Patricia Hermes’ children’s historical fiction Elizabeth’s Jamestown Colony Diary: The Starving Time, Book 2 (Scholastic Inc., 2001) takes an up-close look at the original Jamestown colony settlement of the English London Company in what is now Virginia, in North America. The work is narrated by a precocious 9 year old girl named Elizabeth. She is drawn as a typical girl, if especially verbal, but she is witness to an extraordinary historical place and time.
The second book of this two-part fictionalized diary account of the Jamestown settlement, The Starving Time is set in 1609 – 1610, and focuses in particular on the awful winter in the middle of this period, during which a colony of nearly 500 people dwindled down, due to hunger and disease, to 60 stalwart survivors.
The Building Them Up, Knocking Them Down project has students assemble arguments from suggested argumentative claims and selected passages on the question over whether Elizabeth loses her essential humanity due to the brutally extreme conditions of that winter. Then it has students participate in Refutation Two-Chance, so that they can respond to counter-arguments from against the arguments they have built on the issue. The project ends with an optional argument writing assessment.