Stefanik’s lack of logical thinking

The article entitled “Stefanik backs Trump fight,” appearing in the Dec. 4 issue of the Press-Republican, raises some interesting questions about logic and logical thinking. For instance, if as Rep. Elise Stefanik states, “she has seen numerous examples of dead people voting,” not citing specifics about where this occurred or whom they may have voted for, a logical question might be, how many of these dead people voted for her? Were these the “walking dead” or just people who were brain dead?

How does simple logic and logical thinking enter into this discussion about Stefanik’s behavior?

In 1980, during the “Back to the Basics” movement of the Reagan era, an extensive study was published by Dr. Joyce Epstein but ignored by decision makers, summarizing the findings of research in child development regarding logic and logical thinking based on Piaget’s theory, “Genetic Epistemology.”

His theory defines logic using “conservation experiments” such as shown by this abbreviated example. A youngster is presented with two like beakers filled to approximately the same level with water. To establish a baseline for the experiment, the youngster is asked to adjust the amounts of water in each beaker until he or she is in agreement they indeed contain the same amounts of water.

The water from one beaker is then carefully poured into a taller, skinnier beaker without spilling any. The level of water in the taller beaker appears much higher than it did in its original beaker.

The youngster is then asked if there is the same amount of water in the taller beaker and the remaining original beaker or if one now has more water. (To answer, this requires direct observation of the entire process.)

A youngster who is pre-logical or pre-operational will say there is more water in the taller beaker since it appears higher, regardless of having just agreed the amounts of water were the same in the original beakers. This conclusion is based on how things now appear to be, not on concepts based on empirical evidence. Epstein’s research indicates 85% of kindergartners, 60% of first-graders, 35% of second-graders, 25% of third-graders and 15% of fourth-graders are pre-logical/pre-operational.

If logical, a youngster would have said that since no water was lost, there must still be the same amounts in the original and the taller beakers, regardless of how they may appear. This is beginning logical thinking based only on concrete experience. Without the physical props, logic would be missing. Again citing Epstein’s research, 5% of first-graders are beginning to be logical with concrete experiences, 10% of second-graders are showing signs of logical thinking, 29% of third-graders are at the beginning logical stage and 30% of fourth-graders have reached this stage.

It is assumed that the youngster who is logical has conserved or retained in the mind the idea of the two equal beakers of water and applied that concept when answering the question logically. Without the ability to conserve the concept of “equalness,” the youngster is naturally pre-logical/illogical due basically to genetics. Incapable of logic at this stage of life, youngsters are free to reach whatever conclusions they chose to select. They are unencumbered by logic or logical justifications.

Doesn’t this describe Stefanik’s lack of logical thinking and a willingness to adopt Trump’s language over her own, whatever that might be?

A most important question remains: Can a youngster be arrested at their pre-logical stage and remain illogical throughout adulthood? A reasonable answer could be yes. There is ample evidence in Stefanik’s and Trump’s behavior that validates this premise. Furthermore, there is widespread illustration of lack of logic on exhibit throughout the lay public. How can this be explained?

The normal sequence in the developmental levels necessary for acquiring the ability to be logical, due to each person’s genetic code, can be braked or driven off course by continuous exposure to developmentally inappropriate instruction that occurs daily in every school across this land. Its accumulative effects can be explained logically by using the findings cited above.

A clear example is the imposition of mandated standards that require logic when youngsters are pre-logical, or when youngsters are concrete logical and are mandated to deal with abstract and hypothetical propositions. They are unable to provide evidences satisfactory to the ignorant decision makers who apparently do not or cannot avail themselves of logical reasoning.

Decision makers in education have failed to alter this reality in spite of widespread evidences that surround us in this troublesome day and age. They remain rigid in the application of their outmoded values.

Robert L. Arnold lives in Willsboro and is a professor emeritus of education at SUNY Plattsburgh.


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