Reasoning And Decision Making

© Milton N. Bradley 2010

Chapter 6 - Teaching Reasoning

Now that we have covered all of the formal aspects of problem solving in some detail, it should be abundantly clear that there is far more involved in the Reasoning process than most people are aware of. Even more surprising and serious is the realization that even among the select minority who have been exposed to and may actually have mastered the many often highly technical aspects of the formal Reasoning process, for the most part they confine their application of these techniques to work-related areas, and in any event, few use more than a small fraction of those skills in the personal areas which are most important to one’s self image and place in society.

This almost universal and regrettable syndrome is an exemplification of the counterproductive “compartmentalized thinking” that we are actually taught by parents, schools, and (especially) religious establishments, which actually encourage us to suspend our critical thinking abilities in certain areas (e.g. “accept on faith”). Why do they do this? Because what we would discover as a result of an objective assessment and analysis would be embarrassing and dangerous to the established power structures! Of course this common practice of unquestioning acceptance isn’t all bad because it clearly helps to generate a certain group cohesion, which in turn has some salutary effects both individually and collectively. But regrettably its main result is deleterious, because it stands firmly in the way of achieving true understanding of this complex world, and of solving many of the important physical and societal problems that complexity generates. So the really big and nearly intractable problem we face is how to efficiently inculcate a sufficiently large portion of the world population with the Reasoning skills that will enable them individually and collectively to avoid the major repetitive mistakes of the past, and to thus finally achieve the level of cooperation that will be necessary to effectively manage our ever growing world population.

From the perspective of the teacher, even a cursory examination of this book should make it apparent that the many complex and technically advanced aspects of the Reasoning process make it totally impractical to even begin to attempt to teach it formally to pre-High School children, and in most cases it isn’t practical even there. But, regrettably, High School is far too late! If ever there was one, here is a situation in which Sigmund Freud’s sage and oft quoted observation to a parent almost 120 years after he made it (although offered in a quite different context), remains stunningly appropriate today! The situation in point occurred in Vienna when a young mother came to Freud with her now famous question: “Dr. Freud” she asked, “when should I begin to teach my child about sex?” Dr. Freud quite slyly enquired in return “Well, madam, when will your child be born?” “Born?” the mother gasped, “Why he’s already 3 years old!” And then Freud delivered his immortal (and quite clever) punch line: “Then rush home immediately, madam, for you have already lost the best 3 years!” And exactly the same is true here! The earlier the process of teaching the child to Reason is begun, the better. But although an early start may solve one important problem, it creates a different but equally difficult dilemma: How to teach the elements of a vital but stunningly complex and technically involved subject like Reasoning to juveniles whose nervous systems are still only partially developed and far from mature, and whose language and mathematical skills are consequently also still largely undeveloped? Fortunately, I believe that it can be done, but the only way to accomplish it is to do so entirely informally!

The Game Of Go As Reasoning Paradigm

An approach that I favor is to use the 4000 year old oriental strategic board game called Go as metaphor. Its ability to function in that role arises as a consequence of the need by the Go player to make a complete situational appraisal at each and every turn, and to then choose (to the degree of which he is capable) a course of action that maximizes his chances of prevailing,

Go is unquestionably one of the most complex and challenging purely intellectual pursuits in all of recorded history, yet it has been known for centuries that even children as young as 3 years of age can learn to play it, often quite competently. And there are many documented cases (like that of former World Go Champion Kaku Takagawa and former Japanese Women’s Go Champion Chizu Kobayashi) in which by the age of 5 the most apt of these very talented young children have already reached a sufficiently high skill level to defeat most quite expert adults.

On the other hand, it is also equally well documented that, much like the all too common phenomenon of those who don’t “get”mathematics, many (most?) people do not readily “get” Go, and that even among those who do master it, most rarely make any connection between the thinking processes they use in their game play and those they use in their everyday life problem solving. So the crucial missing element in the process of teaching Reasoning informally using the game of Go as paradigm is in somehow achieving that essential (but apparently none too obvious) transference of thinking skills from the abstract and perfect information world of play in the game to the practical, very concrete but imperfect information world in which we live! Fortunately, it turns out that making that essential transition is quite feasible, if not easily accomplished.

How this can be done is:

Caveat! At this very early stage in the development of this new teaching paradigm it’s not possible to know with any degree of certainty how fast the “average” student will be able to master this material. So it’s also not now possible to know with any degree of certainty whether the average student will be reasonably competent in Reasoning Skills by the end of Grade School, Middle School, High School, College, or even not until later than that. But it’s my “gut” feel that it will be earlier rather than later IF this process is begun sufficiently early - in pre-school - and then continued as above described throughout the student’s entire school career.

Using Role Playing Games To Achieve Skill Transference

With very young children especially, but effectively with those of any age, in place of the formal tutorial approach to Reasoning, the use of simple role playing games offers a non-threatening and pleasurable way to teach the basic thought processes involved, at least on a rudimentary level. Since role playing is a natural activity already engaged in by all children (e.g. “Playing house”, “doctor”, “cops and robbers”, etc.), all that is necessary to convert it into a focused learning tool is a bit of appropriate direction, as follows:

A key stratagem in following this protocol is that even with the very youngest children (who may not yet even be able to read independently), it is nevertheless possible to introduce the ideas of REAP, especially those of the seller’s gimmicks and the need to be skeptical of the information being presented, by initially applying them to TV commercials, news broadcasts and even “sitcoms”, instead of to written documents.

Those who advocate application of the childhood strategy of belief in such things as Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Great Pumpkin will almost certainly object strenuously to this analytic approach to reality as “too early”, and (more pejoratively), as “robbing our children of their childhood”. But I firmly believe that here again Freud’s insight was correct, and that it’s never too soon to face the truth. As with other aspects of this complex and often not very pleasant world, I also firmly believe that Artemus Ward’s equally notable insight also applies here - that teaching children things “that ain’t so” and which they will later have to unlearn if they are to function adequately in the adult world, is a counterproductive waste of irreplaceable time and resources.

To counter my contention, some argue that, as an inevitable consequence of the child’s necessarily limited data base of experience, subterfuges like Santa Claus are justified because any child’s understanding of reality must necessarily be much less accurate and complete than that of an adult. Although this assessment of the limitations the child’s perceptions is unquestionably correct, that fact in no way excuses or justifies compounding the problem by deliberately lying to the child about the true nature of reality - a process which not only wastes irreplaceable time in mastering the already difficult process of learning to correctly perceive that reality, but also results in disillusionment in authority when the child inevitably realizes that (s)he has been deceived by those very authority figures in whom the greatest trust should have justifiably been expected!

The Implementation Dilemma

The current ferment in American education concerns the grim reality that a very substantial proportion of our entire student body is sadly below accepted standards in such absolutely fundamental skills as reading and Math! With no universal agreement as to how to rectify this monumentally important and admittedly disastrous situation, nor any universal allocation of sufficient funds with which to ameliorate this problem, it’s apparent that finding either the will or resources to even begin to address the issue of the inculcation of Reasoning skills in our student population is necessarily little more than a pipe dream! So all that I can realistically expect is that some readers of this book will agree with my premise regarding its transcendent importance, and that understanding will, somehow, sooner or later lead to the actions and dollars required for its implementation. Whether such action will occur in sufficiently timely fashion to save humanity from all or even most of the many looming disasters occasioned by our continuing stupidities, is both unclear and unlikely. But I, at least, can be modestly satisfied that through my efforts this issue has at least been brought to the fore. From this point on, it’s up to you, dear readers, to take the necessary actions.

Milt Bradley, July 2010

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