Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Don't Understand This Rhetoric

I'm not opposed to a classically informed Western liberal arts education, but the rhetoric over at Core Knowledge just doesn't make any sense to me. For example:

When students know the grammar of a subject, they can engage it with logical questions. Why do some cells’ mutations cause diseases, others benefits?

I'm supposed to use logic to derive an answer that question? e.g.:

As a logical system, too, humoralism was impressive, for Galen's logic in proceeding to his conclusions is almost impeccable, and his Arabic interpreters, not least Avicenna (AD 980-1037), had refined his arguments still further.

I just find this damned peculiar. I mean, I'm sure they actually teach science, but presumably this explanation is supposed to appeal to someone in particular, but... whom? Not anyone I've ever met.


Jason said...

All of science is a feedback loop of observation followed by deductive and inductive reasoning.

Yes, you do answer the question "Why do some cells’ mutations cause diseases, others benefits?" through a logic-based argument.

Not sure what is so confusing about that.

Just like grammar =/= grammar in that post, logic does not equal formalism and philosophy but instead implies reasoning skills.

Tom Hoffman said...

Science isn't observation followed by reasoning, it is observation followed by hypothesis and experimentation, measurement, verification, repeat. Science is *science*.

But regardless, making an argument for grammar, where grammar doesn't mean grammer at all, and for logic, where logic doesn't mean logic at all, and, for that matter, rhetoric with at best a limited definition of rhetoric, is just, well, a really weird and unconvincing argument aimed at I don't know who. Somebody, apparently.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

I see so much nonsense passing as thought that I have moments wondering if maybe I'm just a total fucknut in a human world I cannot grasp.

Reading you reassures me--either I'm not a complete fucknut, or there's at least one other fucknut in the universe.

Thank you for making me feel less lonely.

(You're the Walt Kelly of the eduverse.)

Jason said...


Hypothesis is reasoning. Experimentation is setting up, in most cases, an inductive argument. Measurement is a more sophisticated observation of a specific event. Not sure why you have verification and repeat as separate steps-- most time verification is repeat. Then you forgot the last part, which is to analyze.

You're being semantic and pedantic (they go together pretty often, no?). It's an argument through analogy, an a pretty precise one, actually. I'm also pretty sure that we used to use these terms in precisely this way when discussing education. Meanings sometimes change both in context and over time.

I'm curious what's "unconvincing" to you, rather than your dislike of their particular analogy.

abellia said...

I looked at the links, and I'm not sure that your take is fair, though I think the Core Knowledge writer should have used the word "vocabulary" instead of "grammar", because that's what he means (according to his example). There may be a little specialized grammar, but mostly, English grammar is all that is necessary. The point of the bit on grammar was just that if you don't understand the words, you can't discuss the ideas, (so get yourself a dictionary).

I'm not sure at all what the second excerpt is showing - a poorly written sentence?

Tom Hoffman said...

Upon giving this a little more thought, it seems pretty clear that this is a dog whistle saying "we will be teaching intelligent design." The school is in Colorado, the pitch is to say "this is as close as you can get to a conservative Christian academy in a public school," without explicitly saying that.

Jason said...

How did you get to intelligent design and non-secular education on public money (two things I couldn't abhor more)?

Tom Hoffman said...

My question is, why would he choose that as the one thing to say about science education in this school. The essay was written for the school website, it is meant to explain the school to prospective parents and students.

It is a peculiarly unscientific way of addressing a scientific issue -- within the context of "logic," essentially asking "why" sometimes bad things -- "diseases" -- happen and sometimes "benefits."

My point is not that this is a completely out of bounds question, or that reasoning has no role is science, but the emphasis on this point is to me, highly idiosyncratic and obviously has some larger significance.

The essay is full of the pedagogical non sequiturs.

"In biology, we need to know what a cell is before we can learn what cells do." What? Kids already know what cells do -- form muscles, bones, etc., before they know what cells are.

Again, you can do it that way if you want, but is there someone out there thinking "Oh yeah, that's the kind of school I want, where they teach you what something is before they tell you what it does?" Or does this example just signify something else entirely?

They debate the merits of the Gettysburg Address? Why would he choose the Gettysburg Address as the example? How do you argue against the merits of the Gettysburg Address? Too short?

Jason said...

I literally have no idea what you're talking about but understood that essay completely. I still see no connection to religion or ID from the article itself.

What cells "do" is NOT form muscles, bones, etc. They are muscles, portions of bones, etc. If anything, that's a bad definition of what a cell is, not what it does.

You have a very strange interpretative lens on this one. Debating the merits of the Gettysburg address does not mean creating some dichotomous "good" and "bad" argument where kids choose a side of the room and duke it out. They're just describing analyzing and debating the quality and importance of the speech, what makes it have that level of quality and importance, etc.

Basically... wtf is your argument here? What does the word logic have to do with your random book quote on humors? What is your total twisting to believe that science does not, at its heart, involve logic? Are you redefining words? Stripping them of context? Making some other case that assumes a reader has some awareness of extra information on your perspective? Just saying things which are extremely irrelevant?

I'm confused. Not as someone interested in education, but as someone trained in the physical sciences where your entire set of statements is even coming from.

In fact, logic alone can dismiss pretty much every creationist and intelligent design argument, and logic is the appropriate tool through which we must tackle these ideas because they can be exposed as unscientific, illogical, and non-experimental.

Tom Hoffman said...

OK, my cells example is a little clunky, but the more fundamental point is that separating teaching what cells are and what they do, and especially thinking that teaching one before the other is fundamental to one's pedagogy is, by modern standards, pretty weird. Do you think they actually teach that way?

What I'm interested in is why, out of all the things one could choose as an example of classical education in a brief essay, out of all the infinite possibilities, "debating" the "merits" of the Gettysburg Address? Is it random? Or does it signify something else?

You can't logically or scientifically disprove intelligent design any more than you can logically or scientifically disprove the existence of God. All science can say is that there is no scientific evidence for something. You can show that ID is dubious science, compared to evolution, but if you move the frame out of science, you've a lot more leeway.

And ultimately, what I'm arguing is that this guy is really conservative, like, so conservative that he takes "classical" education a little more literally than I realized anyone does today. If you look at their site, where the section on science expresses concern about the low number of "native-born" scientists and puts "scientific method" in quotes, and consider where they live, it makes sense. And if you went and visited them it would probably be pretty clear that they are very conservative. As are a lot of Americans!

That Core Knowledge community is a weird combination though, between the erudite, self-described" liberal New Yorkers, Dan Willingham, E.D. Hirsch and these much more conservative types in the hinterlands.

Tom Hoffman said...

Also: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2010/10/publicly-funded.html

Jason said...

I can't speak to anything on the school's webpage but it was quite unclear from your initial post if you were debating the construct of grammar, logic, rhetoric or the school's implementation and other beliefs.

As for separating out what something is and what it does, I don't think these are radical or weird views in today's climate, though it may not jive well with a constructivist approach. My own experience growing up in a typical suburban school district with typically half-way progressive ideas, is that this separation is made all of the time but it may not be done explicitly or intentionally.

What you can "prove" about intelligent design with logic is precisely what I said: it's illogical, unscientific, and non-experimental. Sure, I can't prove that there aren't two mice having tea in the rings of Saturn right now but I can make a really good case that accepting that as truth is still absurd.

I don't know anything about this guest author's politics and I know even less about whether or not there are some veiled deeper signals in his writing. I don't see how your argument would be changed if any two "random" examples replaced either the cell or the Gettysburg address. Other than admitting that all things are somewhat tainted by our own perspective, the structure of your argument could be applied to any example/sample. "Why this and not that? "

As for the existence of any charter schools with even religious hints, if it were up to me they'd have their charters revoked immediately. I personally have little tolerance for any state supported non-secular activity and think the courts have generally afforded parochial schools far too much public funds, time and attention. In fact, my distaste of vouchers is about 99% based on the fact that they will, in effect, lead to choosing parochial schools.

But back to the point of the article, abellia has it right-- vocabulary may be a more accurate analogy but ultimately Core Knowledge is really just an extension of what many historians and guys like Wittgenstein knew for years. If you don't understand the words, the rules, and the context you're liable to get everything else wrong. Critical thinking requires something to think about. Reading comprehension requires knowing something about what you're reading. It's actually pretty straightforward and simple and not so far out the mainstream as you seem to think.

Tom Hoffman said...

I totally don't need this kind of excuse to not finish my pre-Thanksgiving work before 2:00 AM.

Nonetheless, I've now looked over some Ridgeview course syllabi. They are pretty normal. In fact, I can't even find logic in the middle school curriculum.

So the question is more "Why present your school in a way that doesn't really reflect the way it is organized and what you do there?" than "Why is this school so weird?"

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

Ah, come on, admit it, you invented Jason just to fuck with my brain.