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Deductive Reasoning in Education

Updated on March 5, 2014

Deductive Reasoning in Education

Deductive reasoning's place in an educational environment is clearest given the description of reasoning offered by Ala Samarapungavan, Head of the Department of Educational Studies: “Reasoning helps to generate new knowledge and to organize existing knowledge, rendering it more usable for future mental work.” Reasoning, she goes on to say, is “central to many forms of thought such as scientific, critical, and creative thinking, argumentation, problem solving, and decision making.” The versatility of reasoning allows it to be applied to every discipline available in the classroom. Deduction specifically, she says, “is a constituent of many varieties of cognitive performance such as text comprehension, scientific and mathematical reasoning, and argumentation.” Debate in a classroom environment especially can prove useful in education, as a well-reasoned argument depends on well-collected, well-organized knowledge. Instructing a student not only to learn, but to argue, then, demands from the student a broader range of knowledge, as well as a deeper understanding of the material.

Deductive Reasoning Beyond Education

In his 1947 Morehouse College Student Paper, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.” Schools shouldn't only teach you how to regurgitate information, they should offer instruction on skills which can and should be applied to your everyday life, well beyond graduation, in aid of any one person's aspirations. The characteristics of reasoning and deduction above given by Samarapungavan of course extend beyond the classroom, both generally and in terms of a career; the example Samarapungavan provides is if “scientists were to discover the remains of a hitherto unknown animal in permafrost, conduct DNA analysis on the remains and conclude that the animal was a mammal, they could then deduce that this previously unknown species had defining mammalian characteristics (e.g., it gave birth to its young and had body hair).” MLK said later in his paper that the function of education is “to teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” after lamenting the fact that many “so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically.” The virtue of deductive reasoning, at its basest, is being able to break things down conditionally, to see and examine things in terms of syllogisms. For any conclusion or claim, there are underlying premises. Are the premises sound? Does the conclusion follow, given the premises? These are the building blocks of critical thinking, and critical thought should be a welcome addition to any given situation.

Deductive Reasoning in Individuals

According to Samarapungavan, “one of the main cognitive functions of deductive reasoning is to organize knowledge in ways that allow one to derive parsimonious conclusions from sets of premises.” The organization of knowledge of course requires for there to be knowledge to organize, knowledge which comes from education or personal experience; in fact, considering different people's brains interpret information in different ways, it could be said that even education qualifies as personal experience, in which case all of our knowledge is personal experience. Given the unique information any given brain has access to, the connections a person can make when deducing can and will be wildly diverse. Even the construction of a basic syllogism can be quite novel, as different brains make different connections, set different premises, and draw different conclusions. The formation of an opinion, a conclusion that follows given premises, is itself an establishment of identity, as it is reflective of a single person's experience, accumulation of data, and interpretation of said data. The cultivation of deductive reasoning, particularly in the form of debate, where a student must take a position, allows for development; a student must develop their positions to develop their arguments, and in doing so, they develop themselves. MLK asked us to remember that “intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education”, and in that regard, deductive reasoning once again proves lucrative.

Conclusion

The role of deductive reasoning in the classroom is as a tool which allows students better accumulate, organize, and comprehend the material being taught. This tool is universal, and has applications over and above school; it will be just as useful and worthwhile twenty years after graduation, in their field of work, or in their personal lives, because it inspires, promotes, and assists critical thinking. The formation of a view or an opinion, aided by a critical lens, helps to refine, develop, and establish the character and identity of a person.

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