In praise of math, logic, and Latin … say, what?

Classical educators argued that these disciplines are the building blocks of reasoning, problem-solving and critical thinking.


The courses that I taught contained a heavy dose of problem-solving skills.

Early on, I’d assert my belief that that problem-solving skills can be taught – and, more importantly, learned – and set about to prove the point.




I’ve been doing some summer reading on the topic of reasoning & problem-solving and learned:

“For twenty-six hundred years many philosophers and educators have been confident that reasoning could be taught.”


In the book Mindware, psychology Prof. Richard Nisbitt channels some classical thinking on whether problem-solving can be learned:

Plato said, “Even the dull, if they have had arithmetical training,… always become much quicker than they would otherwise have been … We must endeavor to persuade those who are to be the principal men of our state to go and learn arithmetic.”

Later, Roman philosophers added studying grammar and exercising the memory to the practices that would improve reasoning.

The medieval scholastics emphasized logic, particularly syllogisms (e.g., All men are mortal. Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal).

A nineteenth-century educator was able to maintain, “My claim for Latin, as an Englishman and a teacher, is simply that it would be impossible to devise for English boys a better teaching instrument. The acquisition of a language is educationally of no importance; what is important is the process of acquiring it. The one great merit of Latin as a teaching instrument is its tremendous difficulty.”

Nisbett summarizes that – even though some psychologists tried to debunk the so-called “Latin Theory” of learning — the faith in drilling mathematical, logical, and linguistic rules was strong enough that by the nineteenth century some people believed that pure exercise of the brain on difficult rule systems — any difficult rule system — was enough to make people smarter.

That’s good enough for me ….



Follow on Twitter @KenHoma            >> Latest Posts


One Response to “In praise of math, logic, and Latin … say, what?”

  1. Ronald H Gruner Says:

    Critical thinking can definitely be taught, and taught directly as the decision-making process, rules of logic, common fallacies, etc. The best single course I have ever found for teaching critical thinking is “The Art of Critical Decision Making” offered by (no affiliation).

Leave a Reply to Ronald H Gruner Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s