Sherri N. McCarthy-Tucker, Ph.D.
Northern Arizona University-Yuma
The Need for Logic Instruction in Public Schools:
A Sociohistoric Overview of Critical Thinking Instruction in Education
from the Theoretical Perspective of Developmental Psychology Engaging in Socratic dialogues was a means used to refine
critical thinking in ancient Greece and Rome (Robinson, 1921). From the time of the Roman Empire until the Protestant
Reformation, critical thinking was a skill which could be viewed as lethal; other than debates concerning the number of angels
one could place on the head of a pin, questioning the premises of the church was likely to lead one on a foreordained path to
the Inquisition. The doctrine of special creation left little room for teaching critical thinking, anyway; one was born with the
unalterable gifts or punishments bestowed by the creator (Grinder, 1985).
Critical reasoning has been defined in many ways
since ancient times, but the majority of philosophers who have studied
human mind have believed that reasoning takes place according to laws governing logic. Such is the tradition that runs
unbroken from Aristotle to Piaget (Hunt, 1982). Piaget hypothesized a child's ability to organize perceptions and adapt to the
world developed through sequential stages. The developing brain built cognitive structures such as number, causality and
constancy through a series of dynamic interactions with the physical environment. At each stage, the thought processes became
more complex. The mature state of thought eventually reached was termed "Formal Operations" by Piaget. Formal operations
is characterized by mature, systematic and logical thought.
Much evidence suggests, however, that formal operations
is not attained by all individuals (Berger, 1992; Dacey & Travers,
1993). or utilized equally well (Keating, 1988) . It may even develop differently cross-culturally. Years of formal education are
the greatest predictor of formal operational reasoning (Cole, 1979; Cole & Scribner, 1977; Cole, Sharp & Lave, 1976).
Critical thinking may be acquired in correspondence to the amount of practice with formal logic available in the environment
(McCarthy-Tucker, 1998), and there is a dearth of such practice available in our current social and educational milieu.
Including instruction in logic during the educational process should increase the probability that formal operational thought will
be attained and critical thinking skills will be utilized.
Curriculums which combine instruction in formal logic
with reality-based practice in problem solving should produce the best
critical thinkers. The purpose of this article is to examine Western educational practices of teaching logic from a sociohistoric
A Sociohistoric Overview of the Significance of Teaching Logic to Develop Thinking Skills
The ancient Greeks maintained that the best means to explore the nature of reality was through rigorous
deduction. Mathematics was considered the purest form of thought. Plato believed an understanding of mathematics was
prerequisite to the study of philosophy, while Aristotle stated that mathematics was a divine science because it dealt with
timeless and perfect realities (Gibbon, 1960). Even when the experimental approach began to yield returns through the work of
Sir Francis Bacon and others like him, many philosophers remained intent upon deciphering the world through deductive
reasoning. Spinoza, in the seventeenth century, developed his work through Euclidian proofs. Leibnez believed that logic could
best answer both metaphysical and moral questions and hoped to develop a new form of mathematical logic to replace
ordinary thinking so that, when disagreements occurred in daily life, disputants could sit down together with pens in hands and
say "Let us calculate...".
In ancient Greece, an ideal education was based upon apprenticeship to a recognized teacher-philosopher-- Socrates, for
example. Students were engaged in dialogue during which they were expected to apply information they had mastered in order
to solve moral dilemmas and provide solutions for current problems. This process seemed to offer both instruction and practice
of critical thinking. Lewis (1981) notes that Plato and, later, Aristotle both emphasized the value of education. Both stressed
the importance of "molding children through stories, music and gymnastics." Plato thought the study of mathematics was
particularly important during adolescence to prepare the mind for abstract reasoning. Aristotle placed slightly less value on the
study of mathematics during adolescence and more value on reading, writing and drawing as tools to facilitate clear thinking.
Since Roman education was based on the Greek model (Gibbon, 1960), similar practices were followed for educating
Roman patricians. From the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, Western educational practices were tied primarily
to the Roman Catholic Church, and the majority of the populace was neither educated nor literate. In the late 15th century, the
influence of the Renaissance was transported to England by clerics and government officials who had visited Italy and
witnessed the intellectual movement flourishing there. This influence was responsible for the English humanists' view of
education. It became the mission of prominent humanists such as Colet, Elyot and Ascham to persuade the English gentry that
their sons should study Latin and read the works of Terrence, Virgil, Horace and Cicero.
Studying the moral, philosophical and political content provided therein was considered necessary to refine critical thinking
skills (Abrams, Donaldson, Smith, Adams, Monk, Lipking, Ford & Daiches, 1974). During the 16th century, education
consisted of studying these classics and the Bible in a manner considered liberal yet practical. The curriculum was designed
primarily to prepare elite citizens for duties in government and was presented by tutors who worked with small groups, or with
a single student at a time. Queen Elizabeth I, with her command of languages and her sense of diplomacy, is an example of the
results of the educational system used for royalty in England during this time (Abrams, et al, 1974). Elizabethan education was
based upon the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) and the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric).
This seven-part curriculum survived as a model for the education of the upper classes in England and, later, in America for
nearly four centuries. John Stuart Mill (1862), considered one of the most intelligent individuals in recent history, reported
receiving an education based on the trivium and quadrivium during the nineteenth century. The curriculum was subsequently
rearranged into "Arts & Letters" and "Arithmetic & Sciences." It appears that what we now term "critical thinking skills" were
incorporated primarily in the trivium when the early form of the classical curriculum was used, and later divided between
"Letters" and "Sciences"--- a division which, assuming critical thinking skills are taught at all in modern public schools, still
exists today. Early in this century, Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Rudolph Carnap and other logical positivists
took the view that laws of logic deal with relationships among statements; they are extremely valuable ways of handling
information, but do not produce new knowledge, nor guarantee infallibility.
Their work was based, in part, on Kant's view that pure reason can lead to contradictory conclusions. Problems with the
validity of deduction noted by these more recent philosophers do not, however, make it any less valuable a tool for developing
thinking skills in human beings. As journalist Walter Lipmann pointed out earlier in this century, blind faith in irrational beliefs is
not a better alternative. One of the most important tasks of educators is to lay the foundations which allow
hypothetical-deductive reasoning skills to develop and intelligent questioning to occur. These are the elements of critical
thought. The following section examines the role of contemporary American schools in teaching critical thinking skills to
Teaching Thinking Skills in 20th Century U. S. Public Schools
The United States, during this century, took on the challenging task of attempting to educate ALL citizens born on her soil,
along with numerous resident aliens and naturalized immigrants, in a public education system designed to allow everyone to
acquire the skills needed to function in a republic. Whether this intent was ever purely in place is debatable. George Bernard
Shaw's observation on English schools, as cited in Robinson (1921), may also be used to characterize the American system:
We must teach citizenship and political science at school. But must we? There is no must about it, the hard fact being that we
must NOT teach political science or citizenship at school. The schoolmaster who attempted it would soon find himself penniless
in the streets without pupils, if not in the dock pleading to a pompously worded indictment for sedition against the exploiters.
Our schools teach the morality of feudalism corrupted by commercialism and hold up the military conqueror, the robber
baron and the profiteer as models of the illustrious and the successful (p. 23). Still, regardless of the outcome of American
public education during this century, the original intent was as lofty as the promise of the Statue of Liberty. As public education
became accessible to more and more of the citizenry, however, the pupil population became increasingly heterogeneous. As
the century progressed and the public school system grew to unwieldy proportions, teachers could no longer expect their
students to arrive with common skills --or even with a common language. As American society became urbanized, more
students were required to be in school and to stay in school longer. The overburdened educational system responded by
"cutting corners." If industrialized American society required a high school diploma to access its port of entry, went the
common scholastic reasoning, then it must be possible for every student to attain one. If that meant teaching less to more, so be
it. Logic and rhetoric seem to have been among the first content areas to disappear from standard high school curriculums.
Other sociopolitical forces were also at work shaping the 20th century curriculum--specifically, economic forces. An
industrialized, compartmentalized, assembly-line driven society (DeBerry, 1991;1993) required citizens capable of following
orders and completing rote tasks.
Public schools in the 20th century began producing just such citizens. Whether through lobbying forces, funding, and the
textbook industry or incidentally, as a function of what G. Stanley Hall (1921) referred to as the "Message of the Zeitgeist,"
curricula became segmented and compartmentalized. Students memorized "facts" in English which had little to do with "facts"
memorized in science which had little to do with "facts" memorized in social studies. A diploma ensured that these
compartmentalized facts had been, at least temporarily, encoded in memory and, more importantly, implied that the unwritten
curriculum--one of being to school on time, following directions and not questioning authority--had been mastered.
Although a few private schools still followed a classical curriculum for educating the children of the elite who would run the
factories and the nation, public schools were, for the most part, engaged in the enterprise of producing automatons for an
automatic society. Critical thinking was not in vogue. Rather, it was considered a potentially dangerous practice which could
undermine the turning of industry's great wheels. Robinson (1921) noted this trend with concern, predicting that critical thinking
would soon be abolished in public education: Businessmen, whether conspicuous in manufacture, trade or finance, are the
leading figures of our age. They exercise a dominant influence in domestic and foreign policy, subsidize our education and exert
unmistakable control over it.
In other ages, a military or religious caste enjoyed similar preeminence. In any case, economic issues are the chief and
bitterest of our time. It is in connection with them that critical, free thinking is most difficult and apt to be misunderstood, for
they easily become confused with the traditional reverences and sanctities of political fidelity, patriotism, morality and religion...
Once I feared that, given our current educational system, men might think too much. Now, I only dread lest they will think too
little and far too timidly, for I now see that real thinking is difficult and that it needs every incentive in the face of innumerable
discouragements and impediments....Every youngster in school might be given some notion that neither private property nor
capital is the real issue, but rather the new problem of supplying other than the traditional motives for industrial enterprise--
namely, the slave-like docility and hard compulsion of the great masses of workers on the one hand and speculative profits on
the other which now dominate in our present business system. This existing organization is not only becoming more and more
patently wasteful, heartless and unjust, but is beginning, for various reasons, to break down (pp. 161-211).
Robinson's observations on both the assembly-line mentality of schools and the eventual breakdown of the industrial system
from early in the century foreshadowed not only the changes in our public education system as the century progressed, but also
McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the current global economy which is resulting in massive restructuring for many multi-million
dollar corporations. As Robinson predicted, the former organization of these corporations has now "broken down due to
waste" (Boroughs, 1990; Marshall, Yorks & Pitera, 1993). The long suppression and recent reemergence of teaching critical
thinking skills in public schools is, ironically, intricately interwoven with these economically-driven, sociopolitical forces.
The era of McCarthyism, at the height of U.S. society's rejection of all systems except capitalism, probably also represented
the height of suppression of critical thinking in public school curricula. Other than in hodgepodge fashion through isolated bits of
instruction in science or literature, students were not encouraged to think. They were instead trained to internalize and parrot
the values of current society and prepared to assume their roles in the post-World War II workforce. Then came Sputnik.
Perhaps traceable to modifications in the Russian educational system made by Peter the Great which maintained vestiges of
classical education, including logic and rhetoric, in the USSR (Troyat,1987), Russia's aerospace technology surpassed that of
other nations. Neither business nor government interests in the United States were pleased. The nation needed to prepare to
meet the future, and one means of preparation was by educating able students to, once more, become thinkers and inventors
rather than assembly-line automatons. Thus began an increased focus on gifted education which, serendipitously, returned
instruction in logic and critical thinking in various forms to the curriculum.
The "gifted education" movement, conceived in this country when Leta Hollingworth (Silverman, 1989) argued for special
programs for bright students and born when Lewis Terman received a generous grant from the Commonwealth Fund of New
York for the purpose of finding 1000 subjects with IQs above 140, had been cyclic, sparing and sporadic prior to the launch
of the Russian satellite. The oldest continuing gifted education program in America originated in Cleveland in 1921, where
pupils with high test scores devoted part of their school day to special curricula and methods which encouraged critical
thinking. New York, the state which funded Terman's first grant, also has offered a variety of separate classes and schools for
exceptionally bright children since the 1920's, most notably the experimental programs at Public School 500 where Leta
Hollingworth developed the curricula. Selective magnet high schools for students with artistic or scientific talent have also
existed in New York City since the 1920s. But such programs were rare in the rest of the U. S. for the first half of the
After Sputnik, however, support for gifted and talented (GT) education peaked. Legislatures and local school boards in the
late 1950s moved hastily to improve education, especially for prospective scientists and engineers. Supporting federal
legislation carried the title: "National Defense Education Act" (Laycock, 1979). Educational changes were encouraged and
grants were provided for that purpose. Magnet schools for students deemed capable of exceptional achievements flourished.
Science was emphasized in curriculums across the country. Special programs aimed at educating "rocket scientists of the
future "were instituted. Critical thinking again had a place in our public schools--but only in GT programs.
Gifted education has been available in most public school districts since the 1960s. The Office of the Gifted and Talented,
responsible for authorizing expenditures for model school programs, teacher training, research, and dissemination of
information regarding the gifted was established by U.S. Commissioner of Education Sidney Marland in 1972. Federal
expenditures on gifted education programs rose from about $300,000 that year to $2.6 million in 1977 (Laycock, 1979).
Lobbying and legislation have resulted in continued support for gifted education programs for the last two decades. Until the
recent movement to teach critical thinking explicitly, spurred by economic concerns (Paul, 1992), GT programs were the only
area of public school curriculum where a semblance of critical thinking skills were consistently taught. Much of this occurred
serendipitously, as GT instructors were discouraged from covering information taught in "regular" subjects.
They sought materials with content which was not covered by other instructors. The "regular" public school curricula was
segmented, departmentalized, watered down and, as the report "A Nation At Risk" pointed out in the early 1980's, largely
ineffectual and incapable of competing with the educational systems of other industrialized nations. Critical thinking instruction
was seldom included anywhere, as evidenced by the fact that GT teachers could include the topic in some form without any
other content area teachers becoming "territorial" over that particular domain of knowledge. It is possible that even the
sporadic inclusion of logic and activities which focused on hypothetical deductive reasoning served to support and enhance the
thinking skills of the students in these programs, maintaining or enhancing their high scores on ability tests.
This suggests that instruction in logical reasoning may result in increased performance on ability tests, a theory which is
supported by empirical research on instructing adolescents (Hernstein, Nickerson, Sanchez & Swets, 1986;
McCarthy-Tucker, 1998). The "Nation At Risk" report, combined with changing needs in the workforce of our country,
culminated in the current movement to teach critical thinking skills to ALL students in public schools. The Chase Manhatten
Bank pointed out that training can make up for a lack of many skills in newly-hired employees, but the one skill which
corporations most require and are least able to train for is critical thinking (Burns, 1983).
The California State University system responded to the need for employees capable of thinking business leaders expressed
by requiring a class in "critical reasoning" as part of the general studies curriculum required for all baccalaureate degrees (Ennis,
1989). The National Association of American Colleges, community college systems in several states and numerous vocational
institutions have now become actively engaged in finding ways to teach critical thinking skills (Arons, 1985; Barnes, 1992;
Burns, 1983; Hartly, 1990). Liberal educators and conservative corporate CEOs are finally in agreement about at least one
aspect of schooling: the need to teach critical thinking skills. But is one course at the college level, as California has mandated,
sufficient to address this need, especially if no other instruction in the skill has ever occurred? This seems unlikely.
Schools should be teaching students to engage in critical thinking, not in the regurgitation of facts as directions are followed
to the letter, throughout their educations. Is this being done? This question can be answered by considering developmental
psychological theories and principles about how students develop, learn and think. The next section will summarize and critique
programs which are currently used to teach critical thinking in U.S. schools from the perspective of these theories.
Current Programs Used to Teach Critical Thinking
" Direct attempts in our schools to produce a more intelligently critical and open-minded generation are likely to be far less
feasible than indirect ones," Robinson (1921) wrote. This seems to have proved true. A thorough search of programs used in
American public schools to enhance critical thinking has shown these programs to be indirect, at best. According to the
curriculum director for a large southwestern high school district (Hathurn, 1993), and substantiated by the author's experiences
teaching public school in two states, they are diffused with no particular order, rhyme or reason throughout various content
areas. As noted earlier, when the trivium and quadrivium were split into "Arts & Letters" and " Mathematics & Sciences,"
critical thinking instruction seemed to be split, as well.
Over 100 different programs for teaching critical thinking, other than those aimed specifically at gifted and talented groups,
are currently published in this country. Roughly half of these programs are divided between Language Arts and Social Studies,
with slightly more in Language Arts. The remainder, with a few exceptions, are divided between Mathematics and Natural
Science. Programs from each of these areas, selected on the basis of extensiveness of use and research available on
effectiveness, are described below to provide a sense of what is currently used to teach critical thinking in U.S. schools.
Critical Thinking Programs in Language Arts and Social Studies
Aristotle stressed the importance of reading and writing to develop critical thinking skills. Later, Thorndike (1917) stressed
the link between reading and reasoning. Thus, including thinking skills instruction in language arts classes does have some
historical precedence. More recently, Brown & Campione (1990) cite reading to be the domain in which thinking skills figure
most prominently. Many English teachers seek to follow the suggestions of Aristotle by teaching logic, reasoning and critical
thinking through essay assignments and classroom discussions of literature. The insistent cry from those in higher education that
students are coming to college less able to write and think critically than ever before (Arons, 1985; Hirshberg, 1992; Heyman
& Daly, 1992; Paul, 1992) suggests something is missing in this approach. Despite this, many of the more well-known
programs to teach critical thinking skills are designed for use in the content area of language arts.
Lipman, Sharp & Oscanyon (1980), of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy, developed a program called
"Philosophy for Children." Plato and Aristotle might consider introducing this subject to elementary school age children
developmentally inappropriate. Both believed the study of philosophy to be pointless before the age of 50 when adequate
knowledge structures had presumably been developed to deal with issues wrestled with by the discipline. Lipman's program
does, however, utilize one of the key instructional methods employed by both Plato and Aristotle--that of Socratic dialogue.
The program is based on what Lipman calls "social inquiry" (Lipman & Sharp, 1980) and consists of assigning a story to be
read by students in which the major character must make a critical choice, then discussing ways in which the character reached
a decision. Although marketed as an original approach based in the discipline of philosophy, similar practices are used by
teachers from early elementary school through college to enhance reading comprehension and thinking skills.
Such strategies are taught to pre-service teachers in English, reading and language arts methods courses. Many junior high
and high school English instructors engage in the practice of discussing the motivations for decisions made by fictional
characters through the genre of Young Adult (YA) Literature. This strategy engages students in dialogue about social issues.
Harrison (1984) and DeHart & Bleaker (1988) found, however, that this practice often may fail to enhance students' thinking
since YA literature offers few, if any, characters who truly model critical thought processes and logical reasoning skills.
Lipman's program addresses this lack by providing stories specifically written to include protagonists who DO think critically.
Sternberg (1983) reviews "Philosophy for Children" as follows: ...consists of a series of texts in which fictional children spend a
considerable portion of their time thinking about thinking, and about ways in which better thinking can be distinguished from
The keys to learning are identification and simulation: through reading the texts and engaging in classroom discussions and
exercises, the objective is for students to identify with the characters and simulate for themselves the kind of thinking depicted
in the program....
The program has some limitations which ought to be considered prior to school adoption:
(a) Students of average or below-average intellectual
capabilities may have difficulty both with the reading and the
(b) Students from lower and lower-middle class backgrounds
may have trouble relating to the characters in the stories,
who come across as very upper-middle class in their values and orientation;
(c) The success of the program will be at least as
dependent upon the teacher as the materials....Indeed, some teachers
may have trouble with the thinking skills taught in the program (pp. 29-30).
Sternberg's critique illustrates major problems with "Philosophy for Children," and with the general approach used by many
language arts teachers who utilize literary discussion to encourage critical thinking, as well. First, although modeling and
identification are psychological principles upon which the technique is based, a very limited number of students will actually be
able to identify with the characters in any particular story assigned for a variety of reasons, including background experiences,
gender, socioeconomic status and ethnicity. Second, the technique is not developmentally sound for use with pre-adolescents.
Lipman's program is designed for use in middle schools, although research suggests that few students in grades five through
eight are capable of formal operations in a Piagetian sense. Some teachers may not even be capable of such thought processes
(Jones & Norman, 1989).
Yet, the skills Lipman's program is built upon nearly all require formal operational logic. Here is a partial listing of the 30
skills he suggests that the program is designed to establish: (a) generalizing; (b) formulating cause-effect relationships; (c)
drawing syllogistic inferences; (d) understanding consistency vs. contradiction; (e) identifying underlying assumptions; (f)
grasping part-whole connections; (g) working with analogies; (h) formulating problems; (i) comprehending non reversibility of
"All" statements and (j) comprehending reversibility of "No" statements.
It may not be reasonable to expect children operating at a concrete level of thought to master these skills (Otto, 1986).
Thus, although the strategy of using literature to teach critical thinking offers the advantage of modeling social interactions which
can build the foundations for critical thought processes, Lipman's program does not seem compatible with what we know of
learning from a developmental perspective. Similar, commonly-used methods in high school language arts may be more
appropriate from a developmental perspective but fail to offer critically reasoning models with whom students can identify.
Another attempt to teach critical thinking through language arts is Chicago Mastery Learning (Jones, 1982).
The Chicago Mastery Learning program is designed for use in grades five through eight. It is divided into four levels which
contain units on sentence context, mood in reading and writing, organizing complex information, comparisons, character
analysis, separating fact from opinion and study skills. The program is based upon the belief that almost all students can learn
what only the best students currently learn, provided sufficient time and a variety of instructional tools are provided. This
program has been shown to improve student skills in reading comprehension (Fenson & Fenson, 1992), although the extent to
which improved reading comprehension generalizes to critical thinking skills has not been established. Peer tutoring, grouping,
formative and evaluative testing, reteaching and enrichment are all components built into Chicago Mastery Learning.
The peer-tutoring and cooperative learning components of the program may enhance critical thinking. Many current
researchers in the area of critical thinking support these methods as effective means to build thinking skills (Brown &
Campione, 1990; Damon, 1990; Paul, 1992). Beyond this, though, the Chicago program seems to train students in a very
limited domain--ie..reading comprehension and verbal skills. Unless research establishes, as Aristotle seemed to believe, that
these skills generalize to critical thinking in other areas, the program may be viewed as effective in language arts, but
questionable for establishing thinking skills in a broader sense.
Another thinking skills program which has received attention in both practice and research is Feuerstein's (1980)
Instrumental Enrichment. There are several levels of the program available for students of varying abilities from late elementary
through early high school. This program, generally used in language arts, social studies or special education classes, emphasizes
what Sternberg (1983) refers to as metacomponential and performance-componential functioning.
Instrumental Enrichment is designed to address and correct deficits which impair critical thinking through a series of units and
tests which include: orientation to dots and figures; categorization; temporal relations; numerical progressions; stencil designs;
comparison of pictures, and following directions. Feuerstein's list of thinking deficits, which these activities supposedly correct,
includes: (a) unplanned, impulsive and unsystematic exploratory behavior; (b) lack of, or impaired, capacity for considering two
sources of information at once, reflected in dealing with data in a piecemeal fashion rather than as a unit of organized facts; (c)
inadequacy in experiencing the existence of an actual problem and subsequently defining it; (d) lack of spontaneous
comparative behavior or limitation of its appearance to a restricted field of need; (e) lack of, or impaired, strategies for
hypothesis testing; (f) lack of orientation toward the need for logical evidence; (g) lack of, or impaired, planning behavior, and
(h) an episodic grasp of reality. Feuerstein (1980) seeks to correct these deficits through his activities and tests while, at the
same time, increasing each student's intrinsic motivation and feeling of self-worth.
His is one of the most widely-studied programs, and there is evidence that its use tends to significantly raise student scores
on measures of ability (Sternberg, 1983). The isolation of Feuerstein's problems from any working knowledge base or
academic discipline raises questions concerning the transferability of skills to academic and real-world intellectual tasks.
Transfer of knowledge is an important psychological consideration which must be addressed in instruction. As Sternberg
(1983) points out, Instrumental Enrichment seems to train primarily those abilities tapped by IQ tests rather than a broader
spectrum of abilities and adaptibilities that go beyond what tests measure as intelligence.
Writing assignments, discussions and debates focused on current events are viewed as important means to enhance critical
thinking skills in language arts and social studies classes (Bender & Leone, 1988; Fleming, 1982; Jones, Ternzmann, Friedman
and Walker, 1992; Karolides, 1987; O'Banion, 1989; Oliver, 1985; Parker, 1989; Rosenblum-Cale, 1992; Spicer, 1991;
Stahl, 1988) If logical reasoning and critical thinking skills are not established prior to engaging in these activities, however,
students are unlikely to succeed at these assignments. Further, no clear evidence exists to establish that such assignments
enhance thinking skills. It may be more appropriate to instruct students in the components of logic and critical thinking prior to
assigning tasks such as these, rather than making assignments which are impossible to complete accurately considering the lack
of a critical knowledge base in most students and then bewailing the lack of reasoning skill students display (O'Banion, 1989;
Using a metaphor of language acquisition, one would not expect a child who had grown up in an environment without any
exposure to the spoken word to adequately complete a vocabulary assignment on the first attempt. Similarly, students who
have no exposure to logic may be unable to think critically. Another strategy which has been explored recently gives
adolescents the task of writing a personality profile of a particular adult whom the students have interviewed or heard speak.
This adult may be a community member who attended the same school as the student, a person currently working in a field of
interest to the student, or an elderly adult from a local geriatric center (Beyersdorfer & Schauer, 1992; Hamilton, 1990).
Although systematic research to determine whether such assignments enhance critical thinking has not yet been conducted,
based upon principles of identification, modeling and transfer of knowledge, such methods may be fertile avenues for future
exploration. Although the above review is by no means an exhaustive summary of all critical thinking programs available for use
in language arts and social studies, the programs reviewed here are representative of the approaches currently used to enhance
student thinking skills. One element from the classic trivium which seems to be missing in many of these programs (except,
perhaps, Lipman's, and, in a visual format, Feuerstein’s) is instruction in formal logic.
Rhetoric has survived in the form of the discussion, reading and writing assignments summarized above, but without the
foundation of logic upon which it was traditionally based. Without a base of logic, it may be of little value for enhancing critical
thinking. One may discuss feelings and opinions exhaustively but, without logic as a basis for such discussions, no reasonable
means of evaluation exists. Mass opinion and consensus is likely to replace more solid foundations for decision making.Morris
(1984) comes to this conclusion when reviewing social studies and economics texts in Great Britain. He suggests that inclusion
of logical reasoning instruction in the classroom would improve student performance.
Critical Thinking in Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Plato's strategy for developing abstract reasoning skills in adolescents utilized instruction in mathematics. This philosophy
may still be the underlying premise upon which high school algebra requirements in our public schools are based. A number of
programs to improve critical thinking skills in adolescents have been directed toward science and mathematics curricula. A
substantial body of research (Bitner, 1989; 1990; Blosser & Helgeson, 1984; Galotti & Komatsu, 1989; Leary, 1993) has
established that skills in spatial reasoning ability, problem-solving skills, proportional reasoning and probabilistic reasoning are
highly correlated to student achievement in science and mathematics. Underlying these abilities is the Piagetian concept of Need
for formal operational reasoning, typically not available to students until at least adolescence and sometimes not available in all
content areas, dependent upon student knowledge structures, even then (Arons, 1984; Bitner, 1989; 1990; Blosser &
Helgeson, 1984; Keating, 1988).
Programs aimed at enhancing thinking skills in science and mathematics are typically more compatible with developmental
and other psychological theories than those designed for use in language arts and social studies. Science and mathematics
programs are also more frequently studied systematically to assess results. Perhaps this is because educators in these areas are
more familiar with the scientific method and more likely to read and apply research to curriculum development than educators
in other content areas. Regardless of causes, a survey of programs designed to teach critical thinking skills in science and math
revealed that most do account for student developmental level. Most also tend to focus on enhancing specific requisite skills to
scientific, visual-spatial or mathematical reasoning.
One example is Peterson's (1986) model to teach proportional reasoning to adolescents, which addresses both definitional
and developmental concerns, and then proposes a hierarchy of several skills and mental processes required for proportional
reasoning before presenting a series of science activities designed to teach and reinforce each of these skills. Narode, Heiman,
Lochhead and Slomianko (1992) suggest several strategies for use in science and mathematics classes to enhance visual-spatial
reasoning, including concept mapping and Venn diagrams. Arons (1982) successfully utilized these strategies to enhance visual-
spatial reasoning in an introductory physics course.
Linn (1989) found that combining content area instruction in human biology with instruction in logical reasoning, including
syllogistic reasoning and Venn diagrams, had a positive effect on student mastery of concepts. Crow & Haws (1985) had
similar results in a geology course. Instruction in logic combined with content-area instruction enhanced student achievement in
both critical thinking and mastery of geology. These studies provide support for the need to include instruction in formal logic in
coursework for adolescents and young adults in order to refine thought processes and facilitate mastery of concepts and
In mathematics, units to improve visual-spatial reasoning are common, as are approaches to develop problem-solving skills
based on solving mathematics word problems. Instruction in formal logic is also sometimes employed (Miller,1986; Heiman,
Narode, Slomianko & Lochhead, 1992). Logical reasoning ability has been found to have a high correlation with achievement
in statistics (Harvey, 1985), matrix algebra and graphing, computer programming (Foreman, 1988) and geometry
(Massachusetts Education Assessment Program, 1987). Jansson (1988) and others have carefully documented and researched
a series of underlying logical reasoning hierarchies required in mathematics and established that mastery of these logical skills
seems to be developmentally tied, in a Piagetian sense. Thus, most current elementary mathematics programs utilizing concrete
examples and hands-on approaches are based on developmental theory.
Many secondary programs seek to incorporate instruction in logical reasoning to some extent (Baxandall, 1978; Cook,
1989; Michigan State Board of Education, 1988). Plato's assertion that adolescence is the appropriate time to focus on more
abstract forms of mathematics and logic seems to be supported by this body of research. University methods courses in math
and science instruction also frequently include units on logical reasoning (Jones & Norman, 1989; Piburn & Baker, 1988).
Strategies used to teach logic in math and science include but are not limited to: use of Euhler and Venn diagrams; practice with
verbal and visual analogies; diagrammatic representation of information presented in word problems and practice with the
scientific method. Such activities can be found in most secondary math and science texts. They are typically included during
pre-service teacher instruction in math and science methods classes and are a part of numerous supplementary materials
published for math and science instruction (Seymour, 1992.)
Good sources of example activities similar to those commonly used are be found in Baron & Sternberg (1990) and
Sternberg (1983). Research in computer-assisted instruction (CAI) related to teaching logic and critical thinking has focused
primarily on middle-school students. This may introduce developmental issues which need to be considered when analyzing the
results. Some of the findings, however, are worth noting. Seidman (1990) found that instruction in LOGO programming tended
to boost fifth grade students' abilities in conditional reasoning--an unexpected but beneficial spontaneous transfer. Shaw (1985)
found that use of microcomputer simulations increased achievement on tests of logical reasoning in middle school students, but
Bright (1983) found that using the computer game "Mastermind" with sixth and eighth grade students had no effect on logical
reasoning skill in other areas.
Bezenilla & Ogden (1992) engaged 13 and 14 year-olds in tasks requiring database searches and found logical reasoning
skills lacking. They suggested instruction in logic--particularly concepts of AND, OR, ALL, SOME, NO and NOT from
syllogistic reasoning--might benefit students. Bass & Perkins (1984) developed a nine-week CAI unit to teach critical thinking
skills to seventh graders. Results indicated gains were made in inductive/deductive reasoning and verbal analogy by students
who participated in the unit. Hunter and Wold (1982) reviewed several computer games and suggested they were valuable
tools for classroom use to improve logical reasoning, perseverance, goal setting and attention to detail in students. As
previously noted, numerous programs to teach critical thinking skills are used in gifted education programs at all levels.
One prototypic example is Runkle and Tansey's (1980) "Logic: A Unit for 4-8 Graders, Especially Gifted and Talented"
available through Area Education Agency 7, Cedar Falls, IA. This unit includes lessons in scientific reasoning, spatial reasoning,
inductive logic, deductive logic, analogies, if-then statements, syllogistic reasoning and logical fallacies. Another example is
Iozzi's (1987) unit on "Science, Technology and Society," a multidisciplinary unit which focuses students on important issues
related to the relationship between scientific advances and societal values. At the other end of the spectrum, a number of
programs to enhance logical thinking focus specifically on at-risk students, learning disabled students and deaf students
(Buehner & Lucas, 1986; Green, 1989; Martin & Jones, 1987; 1988; Norris, 1990). Interestingly, there are few substantial
differences between these programs and the programs for GT students--except, perhaps, readability level and ethnicity of the
characters included in text.
Research (Martin & Jones, 1987;1988) has established the effectiveness of programs which teach critical thinking skills to
special populations. It appears logic and reasoning skills are not available only to GT students. These skills are available to
virtually everyone IF adequate instruction is provided at the proper time developmentally AND sufficient modeling of these
skills occurs during childhood. Zechmeister & Johnson (1992) recommend a functional approach to teaching critical thinking.
A self-contained course which encourages students to apply planning, verification, evaluation and logic in their daily lives is
likely to help overcome attribution error, according to these authors. Their approach is based on a review of the literature in the
area of social psychology.
In contrast to a self-contained course approach, several units to teach logic are "multidisciplinary." The move away from
segmented academic disciplines, each with their own body of knowledge and method of reasoning, seems to go hand in hand
with the critical thinking movement, perhaps with good reason: Critical thinking is a skill which should generalize to all areas. It
is not the domain of a particular subject area. Cook & Martinello (1993) studied an urban middle school which had
implemented interdisciplinary theme units into the curriculum and found that teachers perceived this to be a useful strategy for
improving student understanding and critical thinking skills. Examples of numerous multi-disciplinary programs are recounted in
Neubert and Binko's (1992) Inductive Reasoning in the Secondary Classroom; Heiman and Slomianko's (1992a; 1992b)
Critical Thinking Skills and Thinking Skills Instruction and Presseisen's (1992) Thinking Skills: Research and Practice.
Utilizing several content areas to teach logical reasoning is recommended by scholars active in the area of thinking skills,
including Perkins (1985) and Quellmalz (1990). Implications for Instruction It is likely that all of the programs cited above may
be useful for improving critical thinking to some degree because of their inclusion of components of logic, but systematic
integration of such programs in public education is lacking.
Two common problems in logic instruction are that: (a) teachers focus on relating the skills presented only to their own
subjects, thus limiting transfer of knowledge to other areas by students who do not make such connections independently and
(b) instruction in logic is inconsistently utilized from teacher to teacher, school to school and district to district. Although logic is
commonly included to some degree in district curriculums, it is not consistently presented and few means are available to
systematically introduce, teach and practice logical reasoning skills from year to year (Miller, 1993). Consequently, because
instruction is content-tied and sporadic, students may have difficulty transferring it to daily life. It may be viewed as an isolated
"fact" rather than a strategy useful in daily life.
Teaching logical reasoning skills in conjunction with course content seems to be the preferred method, and is supported by
research. Availability of materials to teach logic at the high school level in this way is limited, however. The most effective units
studied have been developed by teachers for use specifically in their own classrooms. However, many teachers receive no
training in formal logic during their own educations, and are therefore unable to appropriately integrate it into their classrooms.
Even those who are trained to do so may not have sufficient time to develop units in logic to accompany their teaching. Thus,
finding a means to include logic in the curriculum is a current concern for public school curriculum developers and teacher
trainers (Hathurn, 1993; Leyba, 1993; Spratlen-Mitchell, 1993). Also, because of the "watering down of the curriculum"
described earlier, instruction in logic is often seen as a "frill" for which there is no time while instructors are forced to encourage
students to memorize "facts and formulas" for assorted district, state and national assessments in their content areas.
Thus, although the programs which do exist to teach critical thinking in science and mathematics tend to be consistent with
psychological principles, such programs are unlikely to transfer to critical thinking skills in other areas. It appears that the
current public school system does not support the teaching of logic to most adolescents. Although many high schools offer
instruction in metacognition and logic in some form such as elective courses in psychology, philosophy, semantics and formal
logic, these course are typically only available to high achieving students. If research establishing the importance of training
adolescents in logical reasoning in order to enhance critical thinking continues, however, the focus could change. Assessing
mastery of logical reasoning skill could become more important than measuring recognition memory for isolated "facts"
(Shoemaker & Lewin, 1993). Some researchers (Martin, 1983a; 1983b) suggest that the best way to improve critical thinking
skills among students is to train teachers in formal logic and thinking skills so they are able to impart these skills to students in
whatever area they teach. This seems compatible with the suggestion that students be exposed to logical reasoning throughout
their schooling, in all subject areas, so that they are able to internalize the thinking strategies involved. Modeling is a powerful
tool for teaching. Just as infants must hear language used constantly before they begin to speak, children may need to watch
logical reasoning skills being applied continuously before they are able to think critically. Ensuring that all teachers understand,
apply and consistently model logical reasoning skills in their classes may be an appropriate means of assisting students to learn
critical thinking skills.
Another option is to establish a national requirement for a course which includes formal logic in public high schools. Although
most high schools currently have an overload of required and recommended courses, the following comment from a freshman
completing a unit on logic and cognition as part of a pilot study conducted at an inner city school offers a suggestion. After a
discussion of knowledge structures, intensional and extensional features and the hierarchical nature of information stored in
memory, the student commented: "Is that true? Do people really think like that? Wow, I know I do--and since I know that, I
think better than most of my friends 'cuz I can check to make sure things in my head are in the right place. That's psychology,
man!" Perhaps the most efficient place to include formal logic in the high school curriculum would be in a required psychology
course at the freshman level which covered metacognition, life skills, career exploration and human development as well as
units on the various components of formal logic as part of a "thinking skills" unit.
Lessons on categorization, hierarchical organization, intensional and extensional meanings, propositional logic, Venn
diagramming, hypothesis testing, and inductive, deductive and analogical reasoning could be presented in the context of how
the human brain organizes information. Transferring this knowledge to other classes and activities would thus be encouraged;
logic would be viewed as a thinking skill we use consistently in all areas of our lives rather than in just math or science. Such a
reintroduction of logic into the high school curriculum would be efficient not only from the standpoint of knowledge transfer, as
noted above, but in other ways, as well. The required psychology class could meet one of the social studies requirements most
high schools have. Psychology instructors, provided they are certified in the discipline and have had sufficient training, will
already be familiar with formal reasoning and the scientific method, so required in-servicing will be minimal.
Many of the current materials aimed at teaching critical thinking in logic courses were written by psychologists, so
psychology instructors will be familiar with the perspectives presented and the terminology used. High school psychology
classes are an appropriate place to infuse logic and metacognition into the curriculum. Students could study WHY and HOW
they reason in the context of learning about the human brain. Psychology courses in high school, though currently available to
more students than the electives of philosophy and semantics, are generally elective courses in the current high school system.
Changing psychology courses in high schools to "required" status and using these courses to provide instruction in logical
reasoning, critical thinking and metacognition to ALL students along with life skills and human development training might be an
effective means of returning logic to the curriculum. This return of logic would likely result in overall improvements in the critical
thinking skills for the next generation.
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