There is nothing I learned– nothing– which was more empowering.
(By the way, don’t you love this new use of the period for emphasis? Almost as good as our new prepositional form “because/noun.” English rocks, because creativity.)
Logic, rhetoric and their leafy green branches, philosophy, are an electron microscope. They are a scimitar.
They are the Defense Against the Dark Arts for Muggles.
And they used to be foundational in our schools. So what the heck happened to them?
Their classical formation disappeared right around the turn of the century, as the purpose of our schools shifted. They enjoyed a renaissance in the Progressive Era in public life and universities, but with the flowering of industrialization and mass technologies for persuasion, they have all but died away. (For a more detailed and nerdy take on rhetoric’s general history in the US and elsewhere, check this out.) Indeed, in February 2013, an article in Scientific American by Dennis Bartels argued that schools have gone so far past the point of no return that it is useless to even try to teach critical thinking in them.
And not for nothing– and I’ve saved this for last, since this is one of those topics that can derail Thanksgiving Dinner entirely– but this is one of the reasons I was attracted to the Common Core. I don’t believe Dennis Bartels. (Because critical thinking.)
The Core, insofar as I know, is the first concerted effort since the 19th century— and arguably the first concerted national effort ever– to introduce the idea of teaching the building blocks of critical thinking to everyone, not just privileged Catholic school girls.
You think the Common Core sucks? You’re not the only one. And yet, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, logic gives a lovely light. In fact, in one of the greatest ironies of the Common Core conversation, it is precisely the Common Core’s strengths in logic, evidence, and reasoning which creates the strongest means by which to constructively criticize the Core’s weaknesses.
I’m going to continue to make this baby-bathwater point in future posts.
For a really good article (and the piece which inspired this post), please read The Guardian’s “Teaching Philosophy to Children? It’s a Great Idea,” published this past Wednesday.
“While academic achievement, career advancement and financial success are no trifling things, they’re simply visible husks that may grow around a philosophical life. The hidden kernel,” says this lovely piece, “is made of freedom, clarity of thought, and a professional mastery of what it means to be human.”
I might rephrase a bit. The teaching of logic, rhetoric, and philosophy is the clarity of thought, and a professional mastery of what it means to human, that results in freedom.