by Merilyn Yates
There are exciting days ahead at Genesis Classical Academy. In the 2019-20 school year, our oldest students will fully step into the Dialectic Phase (sometimes referred to as the Logic Phase) of their education in the first ever GCA eighth grade class. Having moved completely beyond the Grammar Phase, our young pioneers will delve into the science of Formal Logic through a virtual classroom. Logic class will become tradition for GCA eighth graders from here on into the future of our school. But why? What is the purpose of imposing a course on eighth graders, which, for decades has been largely taught to college sophomores? And just what is logic anyway? Parents, educators, and donors may be asking these questions, and rightfully so.
To help provide some clarity, let’s review the basic tenants of classical education. We know that elementary students are our Grammar Phase learners. The Grammar Phase is driven by fact-based learning, and the tools of memorization, recitations, songs, jingles, and games fit nicely into this phase. Students at the elementary level are natural fact learners and are generally accepting of what they have been taught. Moving on to the Dialectic (Logic) Phase, our middle school students are prone to challenging and questioning the adults in their lives, and the facts they have been taught. At this stage they are learning problem-solving and independence skills, as they teeter (sometimes awkwardly) between childhood and adulthood. Eventually, our oldest students will enter the high school years, into what classical education refers to as the Rhetoric Phase. These students will learn the skills of critical thinking, reasoning, and defending what they have learned. Christian classical education recognizes that all of creation is bound together by an Omniscient Creator, and that nothing is without purpose. Our ultimate purpose then is to glorify our Creator in everything we do and say.
What is logic then, and how does it fit within the classical model? Formal Logic is not a philosophy or a world view, but rather the science of dissecting argument. In logic class, students will learn how to identify arguments and statements as truthful, consistent, and valid. On the other side of the spectrum, they will look for fallacies (false statements or weak points) within arguments, in order to be able to identify them. Within the science of logic, fallacies are named to make identification easier (i.e. Ad Hominem, the Slippery Slope, the False Dilemma, Circular Reasoning, and many more). Much like pouring a concrete foundation for a tall building, students will learn to build each argument and statement based on a solid foundation—a truthful premise. What follows then is a logical or valid conclusion.
So, back to the question at hand: Why teach logic skills, especially to students who are already prone to argue? Interestingly, the answer lies within the question. Let’s restate the question as an answer: It makes perfect sense to teach logic skills to students who are already prone to argue. In order to explore this notion further, think back to the playground bully from childhood who was the scourge of the neighborhood. He was probably around eleven to fourteen years old. This guy knew that he needed allies, because eventually someone was going to stand up to him and try to stop him. In order to maintain bully status, he coached his minions to make sure their stories were consistent with his, because when the justice-seeking parent or playground monitor confronted him, any inconsistencies within the ranks would cause his alibi to crumble and he would be forced to pay the piper. His standing at the top of the playground food chain would then be at risk of toppling. Our neighborhood bully understood the principles of building an argument on a premise, and then making sure it was consistent. He innately understood the basics of logic. This understanding came naturally to him because his growth and development were on track to formulate arguments, to challenge what he’d been taught, and to build a case for himself and his opinions. In the case of our playground bully, however, the tools of logic were used to serve himself and his purposes. So then, are we seeking to train up an army of playground bullies? Of course, the answer is no. Rather, by guiding students to learn the tools of formal logic, to identify truth and fallacy, their natural age-appropriate response can be steered toward arguing for truth and righteousness. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (ESV)
One need only spend a few minutes on social media to see that our culture has all but abandoned the rules of logic. Ineffective anger is the norm. As Christ followers, we are called to speak the truth in love. Furthermore, our job as educators is to equip our students to do just that. By guiding them through the tools of building truthful arguments, we prepare them for the critical thinking and reasoning that will follow in the high school years. Our students will leave Genesis Classical Academy with an arsenal of tools to formulate theses and worldviews that are based on truth, and then be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks them for a reason for their beliefs.
Merilyn Yates was born and raised in Winnebago. She has worked in education since 1995, and believes that teaching middle school students is the high point of her teaching career. Merilyn’s husband Rodney is the City Life Director for the Albert Lea chapter of Southern Minnesota Youth for Christ. Having been born into a Pastor’s family, ministry is her passion and calling. She considers herself blessed beyond measure to teach at GCA.