A study provides strong evidence that an applied logic class significantly helped improve high school students’ critical thinking skills. The study was conducted by Dan Bouhnik and Yahel Giat from the Jerusalem College of Technology (in Jerusalem, Israel) and information about the study was published online in a PDF file entitled, “Teaching High School Students Applied Logical Reasoning.” (You can download it for free here.1) This study is of the utmost importance because high school students in the United States are not taught about good reasoning in high school, and logic in particular is highly relevant to good reasoning. A better understanding of good reasoning can help us achieve our goals, become more ethical, avoid deception, and think for ourselves. Nonetheless, I don’t think a single news organization has published information about this study.2
The study tested an applied logic class’s effectiveness on high school students—how helpful would this kind of class be for high school students? Would students’ reasoning skills improve? The class was given to juniors and seniors. Students were tested at the beginning of the course and at the end of the course to find how much their reasoning skills could be improved, if at all. The students were also given a “questionnaire about the course and its effect on them” (1).
The study used a years worth of a “college level” applied logic class that was originally meant to be a two-year college course.3 Only the first year’s worth of instruction was taught in detail. The class taught logical reasoning and deductions, and Boolean Algebra in detail.4 It then proceeded to introduce students to what would be taught in the second year, “digital systems, inductions, paradoxes, and computation” (2).5
The class is meant to do the following:
a) Improve critical reasoning skills.
b) Improve ability to apply logical reasoning in speech and writing.
c) Improve ability to search, retrieve, analyze, and evaluate information.
d) Improve ability in other applied logic fields, such as computation and digital systems. (4)
The ability to understand logic wasn’t only meant to be abstract or mathematical. Instead, “[t]he students were given many assignments in which they had to analyze newspaper articles, political statements, judiciary rulings, and day-to-day life situations” (11).
According to the researchers, “[t]he results suggest that the students significantly improved their critical reasoning” (8) and “[a]ll student groups found this course important” (9). Many of the students reported that “they use these tools to critique and evaluate information” (10). Additionally, there were deficiencies found in students’ reasoning skills before taking the class, which “stresses the need for reasoning to be taught, as much improvement can be gained by such instruction” (11).
The results of this study doesn’t prove that formal logic is the most effective way to teach high school students to be more reasonable. Perhaps a philosophy course without formal logic would be even more effective. However, I personally find formal logic extremely helpful for thinking philosophically and I explain why here. In particular, it’s very difficult to understand formal validity or how to appropriately object to an argument without studying formal logic. We already intuitively understand formal logic, but our intuition often fails us and knowing more about logic can help us avoid making logical mistakes.
Free information regarding formal logic can be found here.
Update (3/19/2011): I rephrased the introduction.
1 Originally published in the Journal of Information Technology Education, Volume 8, 2009. <http://jite.org/documents/Vol8/JITEv8IIP001-016Bouhnik681.pdf>.
3 The class was taught in “approximately 90 class hours” (5).
5 The class can be compared to other logic courses. In particular, a similar course is taught at the Critical Thinking Community website (4). “The main difference between our course and these courses is that we provide a broader skill set of applied and theoretical logical tools.” (ibid).