The Argument Ninja Curriculum

The Argument Ninja Academy program is intended to teach students the art, science and ethics of “rational persuasion” — how to think independently and critically, how to reason well, and how to communicate effectively and persuasively.

The organization of the program, and the teaching and learning principles on which it’s founded, are inspired by martial arts training principles.

A common feature of martial arts programs is a level-based progression system. The levels are coded as colored belt ranks. Beginners are white belts. They learn the white belt skills, demonstrate those skills in a belt test, and move on to yellow belt. And so on. This system is part of an overarching strategy for teaching complex skills in an incremental and cumulative fashion.

The Argument Ninja Academy program is organized around the same philosophy of learning and skill development. But in this case the skills involve reasoning, communication, persuasion, and critical thinking more broadly.

Below is a current draft of the Argument Ninja curriculum. It gives the titles of the learning modules that make up a given belt level.

This document gives a sense of the themes that will be covered but obviously doesn’t say much about the teaching methods we’ll be deploying in the online learning environment that we’re developing.

I’ll be discussing the elements of this curriculum in the podcast and in articles on this site, and in the lower section of this page.

[Note: This is a working document. Expect it to change.]


Interested? You can reserve a seat in this program by becoming a Patron:

Also, sign up below so I can send you updates:

11 thoughts to “Curriculum”

  1. Good Day Kevin. I just became a patron, I believe in what your trying to accomplish and I can’t wait for the course.

    I wanted to know if your curriculum could address how to defend against being manipulated or is that already part of the course. I say that because I think it’s very important for someone to defend against this dark art. Manipulation is prevalent in school, work, public and private spheres and I can’t seem to flush out the truth from the lies. In the past I’ve seen friends and family manipulated into financial schemes which cost them a lot of money and in the worst case their life (suicide).

    I’ve read the book ” I feel guilty when I say No” by Manual Smith, it offers some good defences against manipulation but I feel it is not based on current thinking, so I was hoping you could mention it in your curriculum.


    1. Hi Dee. I appreciate your support very much, thank you!

      One of my goals with this curriculum is to develop skills in being able to detect and resist unwanted manipulation. It’s part of the “critical thinking for self-defense” perspective ( Those skills are quite complex, in my view. They emerge out of developing a variety of other skills and background knowledge. Short answer is yes, this is an important goal of this program.

      1. Hi Kevin,

        Where do you access your courses on this topic? Which by the way, thank you for all that your doing through this program!

        1. Hi Erwin. Unfortunately this page is really just a draft of a possible curriculum, we don’t have courses yet. I’ve been working on instructional design issues for the Argument Ninja Academy for a while, and I hope to share some updates soon. But this page is somewhat out of date now, since our focus has moved in the direction of building a learning platform that is really aimed at critical thinking skill development. It’s a tricky problem.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    FYI, I recently read “Go Suck A Lemon” by Dr. Michael Cornwall, which is an introductory book on Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
    The key idea the book repetitiously pounded into my brain was that in order to minimize suffering in life, adult human beings must strive to take 100% ownership of their emotional state. That is, the words and deeds of other people and events in our life don’t control our long-term emotional state. Instead, it’s the meaning we assign to the words, deeds, and events, which automatically dictates our emotional state.
    Tony Robbins says we must be the “Master of Meaning” in order to manage our emotional states. I didn’t really understand what Tony meant by that until I read Go Suck A Lemon.
    This is important to me because when I discuss politics, religion, or philosophy with someone who disagrees with me, and who uses angry words, dismissive tone of voice, or aggressive facial and body language; it really freaks me out and makes it extremely difficult for me to think logically in the conversation/argument.
    For instance, REBT says instead of me getting angry back at my opponent, I can choose to just feel sorry for them because there is something irrational going on in their mind which is causing their anger. My remaining calm will help me and possibly help continue the conversation/argument with the angry individual.
    I’m going to need tips, tricks, and tactics in order for me to control my own emotions when dealing with those who aggressively disagree with me. So far, REBT concepts seem very helpful in this regard.

    1. You’re very right to point out how productive conversations on difficult topics depend not only on what you say and how the other person responds, but also on your own psychological states and how you manage and regulate your emotions. All very true, and almost never talked about in traditional logic-oriented argumentation and critical thinking textbooks. The principles behind various forms of cognitive behavioral therapy are very helpful here, but REBT is particularly relevant. Thanks for the tip!

  3. You’re welcome! I really like your 3 Rules of Rational Conversation from Ninja podcast No. 7:

    1. Know the subject matter under discussion.
    2. Be willing and able to reason well.
    3. Tell the truth.

    And for me, I’m adding a rule number 4:

    4. Remain calm and communicate with respect and civility.

  4. I’m a newbie Patron and eager to get started. Where does the work of George Lakoff fit into the curriculum? (Book: Don’t Think of an Elephant)? Lakoff is soon to start a website using his studies for political purposes, and his insights are helpful, but I wonder if there is something missing. And Lakoff does not seem to address how to change others, but to speak their language in getting them to accept their purposes. This seem like a shortcut of sorts, so I am wondering

    1. Sorry I missed this one Don :(. Regarding Lakoff, his work is certainly relevant. He was talking about metaphors and the power of language to frame one’s thinking about an issue long before the current surge of writing on these topics. I think his work on metaphor and political language should be part of the persuasion toolkit. But it’s best to assume that everyone who talks about these topics is missing something. Lakoff’s work is somewhat idiosyncratic. On his moral politics, I think it’s very interesting to compare and contrast his analysis of how liberals and conservatives think differently, with Jonathan Haidt’s treatment of that subject in The Righteous Mind. On moral persuasion and reframing, it’s interesting to contrast Lakoff with Robb Willer’s recent work — and to note that Willer is drawing more on Haidt’s moral foundations theory than Lakoff’s.

  5. Kevin,

    In the header of the curriculum webpage is a photo of many books on the subject of influence, persuasion, manipulation, etc., do you have a reading list that you would/could recommend? Many of the books in the photo are already on my personal bookshelf, and I find that encouraging, that we are on the same page, and why I became a patron, and hope that all of this goes where you want it to go. I am doing my best to promote it to my network of like-minded people.

    1. Much appreciated David! It’s hard for me to keep an updated list, I discover new books all the time as well. I’ve got some comments on books over at the Critical Thinker Academy: But it’s very incomplete. On the podcast I talk about “persuasion guilds”, where certain forms of persuasion are part of a professional practice, like sales and marketing, speech writing, seduction, stage magic, con artistry, hypnosis, etc. Beyond the obvious books by Cialdini and the NLP folks, I find it fascinating to dive into these professional guilds and compare and contrast how they talk about persuasion.

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