‘I’m a free American, and so can believe anything I like’. That remark, which I heard on American radio some years ago, and quoted in a previous post (https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/22/btl/), has niggled me ever since, and makes more sense than ever in the light of the current Presidential election campaign, which, among other things, must be the stupidest – there’s no other word for it – in American history. (To be fair, Britain’s EU referendum battle wasn’t far behind.)
There are doubtless many reasons for it, apart from the possibility that the human race is degenerating intellectually. (I’ve just learned – from a book I’m reviewing – that August Strindberg believed that Darwin had it wrong, and that humans were evolving, or devolving, into apes, rather than the other way around. That figures.) The decline of reading, poor education, the consumerist approach to knowledge, short attention-spans, the effect of television and the internet, the rise of fashionable ‘anti-intellectualism’… I’m not sure where to point the finger.
One solution, however, might be to teach Logic in schools. It’s not a difficult subject; or rather, there are levels at which it wouldn’t need to be difficult. It could be dressed up attractively. If it got boys and girls thinking clearly – making rational choices, using evidence, spotting inconsistencies in arguments, thinking in joined-up ways – it would be bound to prepare them to take all kinds of adult life decisions, including their democratic ones, more rationally and reliably. Even if it taught them in the end to discard logic, they would be aware that they were doing it, and have reasoned why.
Is there anywhere in the world where Logic is taught as a discrete and core subject in schools? It is taught implicitly in Maths, of course, and I’m sure that teachers of other subjects – like Science and even History – encourage logical thinking too. Apart from that, I’ve never heard of any school in Britain, the USA or Australia – which mark the limits of my rather thin acquaintance with school pedagogy – that has ‘Logic’ expressly on its syllabus. Why not? It could be the most valuable education of all.