In their recent guest column, professors Hector Avalos, Kenneth Atkinson, and Robert Cargill argue against House File 2031, proposing standards for optional courses on the Bible in secondary grades. I am offering the satire below to point out an objectionable flaw in their argument, namely the idea that the complexity of a topic means that only trained academics should be allowed to teach it.
Why I don’t support the Iowa formal logic bill — satire
House File 747 proposes “to provide students with a basic appreciation for deduction and logical validity, in order to provide a strong foundation for mathematics and critical thinking.” The bill’s author, Rep. Poundcake, Independent-Asketawny, once proposed changing the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance to state “one nation under Reason” instead of “under God.” Logic in the schools is just Rep. Poundcake’s latest Enlightenment gambit!
Logic in secondary grades raises enormous problems, starting with the most obvious: Which logic will they teach? First-order or higher-order? Temporal or modal? Constructive or classical? It is very unlikely that untrained high school teachers will restrain their personal views on the question of constructive (when proving something exists, one must demonstrate the actual thing) versus classical reasoning (indirect arguments can be used to establish existence).
Let us not forget the numerous logics that turned out to be inconsistent (one can prove false)!
Then there are the foul personalities. Does Rep. Poundcake think that students in an egalitarian society should rub shoulders with the likes of Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), who, although a highly influential early formalist, privately harbored anti-Semitic and even proto-Nazi views?
Or perhaps Gerhard Gentzen (1909-1945), who invented ordinal analysis, which seeks to assign (infinite) numbers to theories as measures of their deductive strength — but who also was a Nazi party member. Or maybe Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), considered one of the fathers of analytic philosophy, but whose disastrous personal life (three marriages, numerous affairs) would make Donald Trump proud.
Given these grave difficulties, I, as a highly trained computational logician, urge the legislators not to pass House File 747, and leave to trained professionals the teaching of “the science of deduction.”
End of satire.
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Basics of logic can certainly be taught even in elementary school, despite the complexities of advanced topics. In my discipline of computer science, we have been engaged for many years in efforts to introduce CS into secondary education.
While I have been studying CS formally for 25 years and hold a CS Ph.D. from Stanford, this level of training is not necessary for beginning instruction.
Given that only 28 percent of Iowans hold a bachelor’s degree, according to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission, the argument that students should wait until they can sit at the feet of academics like the columnists is effectively elitist: no access in secondary education means, for most, no access at all.
I also object to the columnists’ linking of the Bible to European mistreatment of Native Americans. It is no fairer to lay such wrongdoing at the feet of the Bible than it is to hold the doctrine of evolution responsible for the eugenic horrors of the Nazis.
My high school teachers were always paragons of fairness on controversial subjects, and if I were such a teacher, I would be insulted by the columnists’ apparent low opinion of teachers’ restraint.
Though I am a lifelong student of the Bible and consider it the revealed word of God, I can see good arguments against House File 2031. The columnists’ assertions are not among them; indeed, even (surely unintentionally) elitist.
• Aaron Stump is a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa.