Are Our Arguments Illogical? Have We Gone Through This Before?

Posted: March 28, 2008 in digital culture, edushifts

During my undergraduate studies, I spent time looking at the past and thinking about ideas. No surprise here as I majored in history and philosophy. However, as I continue to apply my learning (despite what my friends at the time in the sciences and in business programs told me, it has been possible to apply my Arts degree in the real world), I discover that the paranoia in schools about technology is both illogical and something similar to what has happened before. Let me explain.

Part of my studies in philosophy included logic and a classical type of logic argument that I learned was the syllogism. Essentially, a syllogism is a three part argument that makes a major premise and a minor premise and from those two a conclusion is inferred. An example is:

Major premise: All mortal things die.
Minor premise: All men are mortal things.
Conclusion: All men die.

Let’s see if we can use logic to understand arguments made about technology. I’m sure most teachers would agree that cheating is unwanted. I also think that most would agree that sometimes, technology is involved in cheating. Let’s apply these two premises into a syllogism and let’s see what we get:

Major premise: Cheating is unwanted.
Minor premise: Some cheating involves technology
Conclusion: Some technology is unwanted

The logic holds here as it follows logically that some technology is, in fact, unwanted. Let’s continue with this train of thought by added a moral judgment to our logic statement. I’m sure most people in general would agree that cheating is bad. What happens when we add this to our logic statement?

Major premise: Cheating is bad.
Minor premise: Some cheating involves technology.
Conclusion: Some technology is bad.

Here our logic begins to break down. When we plug in the two most common arguments I hear about the use of mobile technology, namely that cheating is bad and that some of that cheating involves technology, into a logic statement, we get an illogical conclusion. After all, technology is simply a tool and no tool in and of itself is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’. It is the way we use those tools that is ‘bad’, ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’. Outside of education, no one would call a cell phone or an iPod ‘bad’. We don’t ban pencils from the classroom despite the fact that kids do stab other kids with them. We simply teach students the proper uses of that technology. We need to do the same with digital technology.

If I apply my history background, our reaction to mobile digital technology in the classroom sounds awfully similar to the reaction of Luddites in the 19th century. The Luddites were textile artisans that engaged in a social movement against the Industrial Revolution as they felt that the machines were destroying their livelihood. They often protested by destroying property – in particular, the mechanized looms that were producing textiles at a far faster and cheater rate than the artisans. History shows that their resistance was futile as the mechanization of the textile industry was progress and no one today would argue that the introduction of mechanized manufacturing is a bad thing.

I believe that history will also show that education’s resistance to digitization is also futile. The Luddite response was to break the machine. Our response is to ban the equipment. At some point, we will come to terms with our fears and will be forced adapt much as the textile artisans were forced to adapt over 200 years ago.

  1. Michael McIlveen says:

    Yep. Logic and history are good lenses. Many teachers see what’s happening – you do – and they’re pretty much poised to move ahead, leading from behind, as it were.

    New Tools
    (i-phone, i-pod, ultra-portable laptop, mobile browser, pod-casts, social networking, vast video stores, sampling, hand-held computer, you-name-it)

    To the extent that these New Tools are necessary for learning, we can say:
    Learning implies New Tools.

    Thus, we have the following by negation:
    no New Tools implies no Learning.

    Note that we do not have the reverse implication:
    New Tools implies Learning; that’s a mistake in logic that may lead to disappointment!

    Thanks for listening.

  2. We can’t move forward without incorporating new tools. However, just because we use these new tools, it doesn’t automatically mean learning happens either. New tools need to be accessed but new teaching strategies must be adopted as well.

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