Source: Argumentation (2020)
This study compares the argumentative writing characteristics of students from different sociocultural backgrounds. We focused on Jewish ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) students, educated in a segregated religious school for boys (yeshiva), who are now attempting to integrate in secular higher education in Israel. To better understand the unique characteristics of this population, we reviewed 92 essays written by Haredi students, and compared them with 76 essays by public education (PE) graduates. Our analysis was based on the cognitive and sociocultural perspectives of argumentation. Both bottom-up and top-down criteria were used to elicit the argumentative writing characteristics either emerging from the data or based on existing theories.
Our primary findings indicate that Haredi students have distinct argumentative characteristics, including the use of more complex and dialectic arguments and unique persuasive tactics. Note that although the PE curriculum explicitly aims to nurture scientific literacy and argumentation and the Haredi curriculum does not, in some aspects (complex positions and counter-argumentation) the Haredi students present a higher quality of scientific reasoning. These findings are discussed in light of previous research on yeshiva learning methods and recommendations are provided for adjusting the existing higher education curricula to suit both PE and Haredi students.
Our findings shed light on the Haredi students’ argumentative writing, but also on the characteristics of PE students. The tendency of the PE students towards a fixed pattern consisting of one-sided argumentation, simple positions and rigid five paragraph essays should concern educational policymakers, who aim to nurture complex argumentation skills (Israeli Ministry of Education 2012). It seems that the way argumentative writing is taught in schools, namely adopting a strict structure with clear rules regarding what is considered a proper argumentative composition (Center of Educational Technology 2012) might limit students’ ability to express complex positions and present counterarguments and rebuttals. Hence, comparing a minority group to the PE group not only sheds light on the thinking characteristics among the minority students, but can also challenge the PE system and promote change.