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THE BEST WAY TO LEARN
TODAY • FRIDAY 10 MAY 2013
Why we should teach logic in schools
K RANGA KRISHNAN
here is an interesting saying: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist, and many others in the educational field have conceptualised the acquisition and retention of knowledge as having many domains or levels of depth. The ﬁrst domain is remembering. In essence, it refers to retaining facts. Unfortunately, retaining facts without understanding them is of little value. It also has a very limited lifespan. The next level is comprehension or understanding. This is shown by our ability to express in our own words the meaning of the information. With understanding, we can start to analyse, catalogue or break down the knowledge, to judge, appraise or evaluate the knowledge, and to relate it to a new context, or to synthesise by
Students learn more from being involved in learning rather than merely listening to lectures.
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integrating it with other information. When learning many skills in law, medicine and other areas of study, it is critical that we have the ability to use knowledge. Without this ability, the facts by themselves have limited worth. One element that is essential in this progression of knowledge acquisition is reasoning. To reason is to infer, to draw conclusions from data, in-
formation or premises. The term logic is commonly used to describe codes of good reasoning. It used to be a subject taught in schools. But now it is rarely formally taught. Informal logic is sometimes described as critical thinking. It tells us how people reason things out, ﬁguring out whether the conclusions follow the assumptions.
K Ranga Krishnan is Dean of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. A clinician-scientist and psychiatrist, he chaired the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Duke University Medical Centre from 1998 to 2009. This is part of a weekly series on the way we learn. To read the ﬁrst two pieces by Prof Ranga, go to tdy.sg/comranga or scan the QR code
Formal logic is the systematic and organised application of the principles of logic. The principles of logic are universal and apply to all ﬁelds. There are many strands of logic, with many dating to Aristotle. There are two kinds of logic: deductive and inductive. Deductive logic refers to conclusions where all the premises are true, and in which case, there can be no way for the conclusions to be false. The fundamental element in deductive reasoning is syllogism, where a deduction is inferred from two suppositions, each of which has one term in common with the conclusion. For example: All animals are alive. Cat is an animal. Cat is alive. In medicine and in many other forms of science, it is difficult to use deductive logic. Deductive logic is absolutist. It offers black and white standards, where the conclusion either follows from the suppositions or it does not. Inductive logic or reasoning is not absolutist or deﬁnite but provides a quantitative range of possibilities. While deductive reasoning is seen as top down, from a general principle to the speciﬁc, inductive reasoning is bottom up. Most medical research tends to be of the inductive type. So does most scientiﬁc research. In medicine, this type of reasoning forms the basis of what we call evidence-based medicine (EBM). EBM is the use of data (evidence) to assess risks and beneﬁts of treatments and diagnostic tests. The data has to be then used to decide treatments for a particular patient. Application of EBM data, therefore, depends on many factors such as the condition of a patient, his preferences and a number of other factors. Understanding logic helps us to learn the proper use of EBM, given its limits. Thus in medicine, as in many other ﬁelds, understanding and reasoning are essential elements for us to analyse, synthesise, evaluate and create knowledge and apply it in a practical sense. It is not enough to know facts and knowledge. Learning to understand a given situation is a more important skill than memory alone. In today’s world, this position is even more critical as facts are easy to find. What is more important is to learn how to apply knowledge. Logic as a way of learning and reasoning is a worthwhile goal. It is a key element for innovation. At Duke-NUS, this is a critical focus. To take care of patients, physicians must be able to apply knowledge in a contextual framework, hence the importance of involving our medical students early in the treatment of patients. They learn more from such experience than merely listening to lectures.