Thursday, September 15, 2011

Illogical college students

From OrthoCuban:

Sadly this comic is actually accurate. As many of you know, I am an Adjunct Professor at an university. One of the things my wife has heard me rant about is the lack of logic, the lack of ability to reason that is found in so many college students. But, it is not merely in college students that this is found, but in much of society, since the problem above has actually been going on for several decades. I spend much of my class trying to explain what it means to reason in a logical neutral manner. Sadly, the students have become used to answering each other with flames or with statements that begin with phrases such as, “you only believe that because . . .” They are then quite surprised when I tell them that such is not a reasoned logical argument, it is merely a verbal flame.

But, the psychological rebuttal to someone’s position has become the main way in which we debate each other even in wider USA society. The idea that an argument should fit several criteria, such as validity, applicability, etc., is quite foreign. The idea that there might be common mistakes that have been well mapped out over the centuries, such as ad hominem arguments, excluded middle arguments, etc., is not only absent, but when pointed out they are even rejected with the surprised expression of one who cannot believe that I would even think that they had made a mistake in their argumentation.

At least in my university, there is some hope that they learn some logic. I teach at an university oriented towards technological degrees. There is nothing like science lab to help teach a student in a practical way that whatever their opinions, real science requires ruthless attention to detail and a strong grasp of the logic behind their particular science. An engineer who does not have both is likely to build a bridge that will collapse. Sadly, if you have read the news today about one of the state fairs, a person who designs outdoor stages will see his/her stage collapse if they do not pay sufficient attention to the possible forces that can stress an outdoor stage, including wind gusts. Unfortunately, outside of the science field that the student has learned, they are still often unable to think neutrally, critically, and logically, after their years of college.

And, yes, I agree with the comic above. This failure to reason impacts our employers. More than that, it affect deeply matters such as our national debates on our future.

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