Living in an Age of Unreason (Part I)
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it. – Dorthy Sayers, Lost Tools of Learning
Living in the Age of Unreason
Have you noticed that in our time people increasing don't think logically? You see it everywhere – in the sloppy arguments put forth in letters to the editor to the unquestioning acquiescence with the idea that human actions have caused global warming to the mindless swooning of Americans for Barak Obama. Even in the church people seem to cultivate a lack of discernment. Instead of appealing to logical arguments, very often today politicians, reporters, and, yes, educators, sway folk with emotion. We've also switched from a word oriented society to an increasingly visual one where reasoning with words has become of less value than moving people with images. The early 17th century has been called the Age of Reason, also the title of a book by deist Thomas Paine. While I'm not proposing a return to that philosophy, which held far too high an opinion of the power of human intellect, I think you could say that we live in an Age of Unreason.
So what can we do? As parents we must teach our children to think biblically and logically. We can teach them what makes a solid argument and what makes a faulty one. And we must teach them not only to know God's word well, but to be able to analyze what they read, view, and hear through the lens of Scripture, then give the world a solid "reason for the hope" that is in them. (I Pet/ 3: 15)
The classical education model provides a helpful framework here for when and how to teach our children to think, reason and defend their beliefs. Classical home educators like to talk about the Trivium, or the three stages of education as follows:
- Grammar (Roughly 1-5th grades)
- Logic or Dialectic (Roughly 6-9th grades)
- Rhetoric (Approx. 9-12th grades)
In the grammar stage children learn easily by memorization. This is a great time to introduce them to many things and have them learn facts, sometimes by rote. During the logic stage (think junior high or middle school) kids are learning to reason, make connections, and argue. Sometimes they can be sassy and obnoxious. You can turn this desire to argue into a positive by helping them reason and make sound arguments about things they are studying. In the rhetoric stage students learn to craft and present their stances and findings. They can reason and explain their reasoning.
These categories are so useful even if you aren't a classical home educator. You don't have to home school at all to find these divisions in helpful in understanding your children. So does this mean you have to wait until you have a junior high aged child before teaching him or her to think logically? Not at all! While formal logic is best taught at that age when your children are starting to grasp connections and reason, you can do much to foster thinking skills in early years. In Part II I'll give a few ideas for teaching thinking skills to preschoolers and early elementary students.