Friday, March 31, 2006

Faux Logic

Wacky Hermit over at Organic Baby Farm comments on students' lack of logic in their attempts to weasel better grades out of their professors. She links in turn to an entertaining article on the same subject. It makes a sort of intuitive sense – more logical students would probably already be doing better in math.

This is another of my many favored soapboxes. Children do not begin to use logic on their own until age 13 at the very earliest, and even then spend years practicing it before they actually become proficient. Throughout their teen years, they are mostly using this Faux Logic, this practice logic.

Not my child, you say. My 15-year old reasons quite well, better than most adults, and has been reasoning since age 8 or earlier. They’re tricky like that, giving off the aura of reasoning well before there is much substance behind it. As to reasoning better than most adults, that is perhaps true, but irrelevant to the discussion.

Children can follow a logical argument from much earlier ages. They can understand and reconstruct logic in latency. Anything abstract that they have familiarity with, such as map-reading or religious discussion, they can experiment with a bit. If this seems surprizing to those with bright children, consider how it is with your own bright self. I have learned to play bridge, but seldom actually do, neither live nor on computer. I like reading the bridge hand in the newspaper. I can nearly always follow the reasoning, but could never come up with those clever ideas on my own. If I played a great deal, I imagine I could begin to apply more than rote logic to the game.

We only tend to notice that teenagers are merely practicing being logical when they get it wrong. A 15 y/o who had bought inappropriate back-to-school clothes – with Dad’s money – shouted “I don’t tell you what to wear! Why do you tell me what to wear?” Well, that’s not really reasoning. But it’s an attempt at reasoning. It’s not just saying “no I won’t,” or “make me.” Students who actually do deserve a better grade – if for example every grade they got was a B-, but through an artifact of the scoring system only got a C+ for the semester, they would bring that forward. It would be unlikely that they were inventing some new logical reason, but just reconstructing some ideas and principles they had been taught.

This is because there aren’t many new reasons. The logical reasons for things are usually familiar. How does logic go wrong? Tune in tomorrow for the next episode…

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