One of the great tragedies of modern day education, on both the university and compulsory levels, is the failure to teach and emphasize logic. One of the great pillars of the classical education was on logic as the foundation for seeking truth, dissecting discussions, and debating ideas.
What exactly do I mean by logic? I am not referring to the strength of the content that schools teach – though much of it does appear to be questionable – I am referring instead to the aristotelian system of codified reasoning.
The discipline of logic is multifaceted. There are many different branches and techniques for analyzing arguments and seeking well reasoned answers. I will not attempt to dissect all of the different forms that logic takes, but instead emphasize the fact of logic’s total absence and the consequence that this plays in schools.
The vast majority of schools today focus on the memorization of facts. Many educators equate education with the memorization of a certain quantity of facts. The classical education did not only emphasize facts but emphasized how to think.
Logic is the structure of thought. All arguments rely on logic to derive their strength and correctness based on determining the basic principles that underly the argument itself and deriving the consequences from those principles.
With the development of logic came the discovery of certain “fallacies.” These are common mistakes of logic which, when discovered, display serious faults in the integrity of the argument. Students trained in the fallacies of thinking are capable of very quickly able to use them to sort through bad arguments and dissect good arguments.
A trained thinker is capable of determining not only whether an argument is a good or bad argument but why an argument is good or bad. What about the argument is strong and what about it is faulty?
It would seem that in a democracy this basic kind of thinking would be extremely essential. Apparently, educators disagree. Today, little if any emphasis is placed on methodology. Students are given facts to memorize and trained primarily in how to take tests. This becomes the sum of their education. On the University level it widely depends on the school, but within the larger state school land grant universities the situation is often not much better. Students are exposed to ideas, thinkers, and writings, but remain defenseless against the intellectual biases of their universities department and professors. Ultimately, students are presented with the ideas and arguments of professors on many controversial and debatable topics as if they were fact. They may question these topics at first, but more often than not have received little to no instruction on how to dissect the arguments and determine where their faults or strengths may lie.
Mathematics is the last area in our schools in which educators cannot avoid implicitly teaching a great deal of logic and deduction. Unfortunately, more often than not math teachers do not teach their discipline as a way of thinking (not just numbers but truth itself) but instead as a kind of mildly unpleasant game that must be practiced for the purpose of passing tests.
Students, every year, ask their teachers why they must learn these math skills. They usually receive the same answers. “To graduate high school.” “You’ll use it in college.” “What if you want to become an engineer?” Perhaps if teachers would demonstrate to their students that they are being handed the tools – in fact the only tools – by which the human mind can grasp for truth.
Perhaps students would discover a purpose and drive to understand their math studies if they could be made to understand how the mathematical systems apply to the wider world of ideas and to the very structure of thinking.
It is unfair, however, to put blame on math teachers alone. The fact remains that logic should be being taught at every level of a student’s education. The transition from English and History into Math should not seem so foreign and abrupt. The unity between the logical nature underlying all human thinking is something that we must seek a return to.
Generations of students are leaving school without a way to structure or test their thinking. They are made impotent to the world of thought. Some might object and consider the methods of the ancients a relic of the past. Those who would so easily dismiss the very nature of the human mind fail to see that we live in a time that demands the utilization of logic more than ever before.
In the information age all men are bombarded with arguments of both weak and strong caliber. How will men structure their thinking? How will they determine what is correct and what is fundamentally flawed? Certainly, some will intuitively deduct correct arguments, and some will choose instead to be guided by whims and instinct.
A civilization, built on the bedrock of human reasoning, cannot be sustained for any serious period without it. If we will fail our children in this regard we will doom them to be defenseless amid the battleground of ideas – where their very souls are at stake.