Why Modern Students Can’t Think, Speak or Write

Today is Tuesday, August 22. And this is William Michael, of the classical liberal arts academy. Assuming that you went to a public school or even a private Christian school, back in the 80s, and 90s, I really don’t know what they did after. But you’ll remember having to write research papers. research papers were sort of the, the climax of our education. The research paper was a huge project. If you’re as old as I am, I’m 48, you can remember having to put together all kinds of flashcards and go to the library and find sources and choose topics and slowly put together this big research paper for your class. And schools. Teach these research paper projects and they require students to do these research papers. intending that through them, kids will learn how to solve problems answer questions by making use of academic resources. But in practice, this isn’t what actually happens. Because the kids aren’t actually solving real problems, they don’t have any stake in the outcomes of these research papers. The kids are just trying to get this stuff done. They just want to do enough to get a grade. And so what the kids end up doing is they they pick a topic that among the available topics is interesting to them, relatively speaking, then they figure out what’s required to get this project done. And then they simply string stuff together, check all the boxes, turn in the paper and get their grade. That’s all that they do. I really don’t believe that there’s a kid engaged in a research paper, whether at the high school level or at the college level, who really cares about the topic of the paper, his concern really is just to get the assignment done, and get a good grade. So we can get a credit so we can move on and pursue what he’s actually interested in. And what these research papers do, as I think about this more and more recently, because I see my college aged kids doing all this research paper nonsense, and I see what they’re doing. And I just I just see the vanity of these activities, these fake school activities. And what I what I believe it’s actually doing is teaching the kids a way of thinking, a way of solving problems, a way of communicating that’s opposed to reason, rather than reasonable. It’s actually built on a number of logical fallacies that become normal for the students. For example, when the students are sent to the library, to get sources, the kids have no idea who the authors of the sources are. They have no idea about the reputation or character of different sources. There is usually just going with a topic and they’re they’re just trying to find some keywords in whatever sources are available. Usually they’re given a number you have to have a certain number of sources. That’s what they’re looking for. They’re taking their keywords, going to the library catalog, and trying to find resources that address it. their topic, because they’ve got a certain number of sources that they need to use. They’re not concerned with quality of the resources. They’re primarily concerned with quantity, because there’s no way for them to evaluate quality. Sure, they learned some basic rules, they learned. You can’t use Wikipedia, you can’t use some random private website or blog. And even that’s not very good advice, because there are some blogs that are more authoritative than many academic journals. But they’re given some basic rules, some simple guidelines to follow. But they’re primarily concerned with getting the minimum number of sources that the teacher has required for the project. Much more concerned with quantity than quality. And you can’t blame the kids because they have no way of evaluating these things. And I’m sure that we, we could say something positive about just the learning of the process itself. But I think the context actually causes an opposite effect to take place, because the kids learn that these research projects are just a bunch of nonsense. And I don’t think that when these kids grow up, they think, Hey, I’ve got a problem to solve. I’ve got a question that I need to answer. Let me use the research skills that I learned and practiced in high school and college to solve this problem. I don’t think we tend to think like that, because we know that these research projects are just schools activities, that you can sort of finagle your way through and get finished with and move on. It’s not real life. So I think it has the opposite effect, it doesn’t invite students to use research throughout their lives, it actually turns them off to the idea of research. Secondly, because the kids don’t learn how to evaluate sources into into consider whether a source is relevant, or whether it makes sense or is credible, to, quote, a certain source. They’re not learning the real purpose of sources. They’re just learning to find a certain number of sources so that their work cited page passes the test. But there’s a real purpose for the use of sources. And we’ve got to learn what sources are for. If we don’t even know who the sources are, it really makes no sense. To quote a source. For example, if I’m talking in this talk to Catholic listeners, nobody’s going to care. If I quote, some statement about God, and then say the source is Oprah Winfrey, or the source was Michael Jordan. As Catholics, none of us care what Oprah Winfrey has to say about religion or what Michael Jordan thinks about God. Because we know that when it comes to the topic of theology, they have no authority. Their opinion, is no more valuable than ours. So it would make no sense to quote such a person. It also makes no sense to quote a person as an authority who doesn’t actually have the authority that we pretend he has. And this is done very commonly today. For example, someone a Catholic will want to criticize Pope Francis. And so they’ll share a quote on social media from Archbishop Vigano and they’ll say, oh, look, this Archbishop said this, therefore, our opinion against Pope Francis is authoritative. It’s coming from an archbishop. But that’s a fallacy. Because an individual Archbishop doesn’t have authority. The authority in the church is with the Pope, and the bishops, plural, in union with the Pope. So once a bishop separates himself as a loner, the weight of anything he says diminishes because he’s not speaking on behalf of the magisterium, which is the actual authority. He’s speaking as an isolated Bishop, which makes for a very weak argument even insignificant. And so that’s a false appeal to authority. It’s misleading. It seeks to cause a statement to have an authority or a persuasiveness that it doesn’t actually have. And so we see that these these ideas that relate to the use of sources, what’s an appropriate source, what’s the purpose of using a source and so on, these things really aren’t learned by the students. That, like I said, they’re just looking to fill a work cited page to get credit for the assignment, they’re really not learning the art of persuasion. Now, the reason we quote, a source is to add persuasiveness to something that we would like to say. But rather than have the credibility of what we say, limited by our ignorance, and lack of expertise, if we can find an expert who says the same thing, it’s better to let him say it. Because it presents what’s called ethos, and rhetoric, it adds some weight, some weight of the character of the speaker. Now, it’s not demonstrative, it doesn’t prove the case. But it makes the case stronger than our own words, would make it when we really have no better proof than what we’d like to say. So there are reasons to quote sources. And because of these sources, because of these reasons, much of what kids do with research papers, really makes no sense. They’re not learning the purpose of referring to a source, other than their own words. They don’t learn how to evaluate the different sources. And they don’t learn how to plan their arguments and make use of available sources. And so these research papers, as I said, for a number of reasons now, they actually have a negative impact on the kids persuasive abilities because they turn kids away from the work of research. And they they lead kids into bad habits as far as reasoning and communication are concerned. And as these are the focus of most school programs and college classes, we raise kids who don’t know how to answer questions, don’t know how to solve problems, don’t know how to communicate persuasively. And we end up with a mess. And this is why our kids aren’t learning to reason. Well, now in modern society, in modern, so called scientific society, we see a trend where, over time, people lose hope. In no knowing anything for certain. Over time, they become more and more skeptical that anything can be known with any certainty. Just think if I were to ask you, what would a healthy diet look like? I think most people would scratch their heads and say, Well, you know, I’ve heard all kinds In this stuff, I’ve heard that you should eat lots of protein and stay away from carbohydrates. I’ve heard that you should eat fruits and vegetables. I’ve heard that you should eat lots of grains. But then I hear other people talk about intermittent fasting, I hear other people say you should have three to five meals a day, I have no idea what a good diet really is. And we’re left in this state of mental frustration. We feel like we just don’t know. And this, this feeling that we don’t know. And that the truth really can’t be known is called agnosticism. It’s sort of the despair of the modern scientific society. And this agnosticism is very common, if, if you start talking about religion or talking about it, you’ll find people just sort of wave you off, because it’s not that they’re actually criticizing Catholicism or rejecting the church, they just don’t believe that that conversation is going to lead to any certainty. They’re just tired of the endless words. This is the spirit, the despair, of agnosticism, which is the fruit of the idea of modern science. Because modern science doesn’t work, it doesn’t lead us to certainty. It actually leads us to deeper and deeper uncertainty. And I can prove that just by asking some basic questions that you would struggle to answer because so much confusion surrounds them today. So not only are our kids not learning to reason, but they’re ending up falling into this intellectual despair, of agnosticism. And so our schools, colleges and universities are having the opposite effect on students that they’re intended to have. Schools are supposed to take students who are ignorant and inexperienced, and lead them to a confident systematic knowledge of things that they need to make use of as adults. But modern schools and colleges don’t do this, they do the opposite, as I said. So what do we need to do to fix that? What do we need to do to actually help our kids learn? To think clearly and reason effectively? First of all, we have to stop talking about our kids, and practice it ourselves. Because many parents love to talk about what that what the kids need to learn, but they don’t study it or practice it themselves. And if they would, if they would actually do it themselves, they would see many of the problems in their families and in their children’s education disappear. Simply because the children would have a good example. To imitate, that they live with every day. They would learn what it looks like to research and study for real, they would learn what it looks like to have a reasonable discussion or argument that actually produces some results, they would know what it feels like to move from uncertainty to certainty. They would see how a prudent man starts with a problem and works. To find a solution. They would experience that and see it. They would know what it looks and feels like. They would know how much time it takes how much effort it takes. And you’d have a big part of the problem solved by simply being a wise and reasonable person, yourself. And your kids would follow you in that to some degree. So that’s the first thing the first thing we always have to fix his ourselves. We have to model the behavior. We want to teach our children to pursue. Secondly, we have to make sure that they have a course of studies. That isn’t merely checking modern school requirement boxes, like these research papers. But it’s actually introducing them to the content that they need to know. To be able to study and reason and solve problems confidently. And notice I said, introduce them to the subjects because these real studies are are difficult, they’re profound, they take lots of time, you’re not going to sit down with a kid at the table, and in a few sessions lead them to some mastery of the art of reasoning. The expectations that we have for outcomes of learning are so unrealistic today. Parents put in a couple hours a week in homeschooling on certain subjects and expect great results. And there will be no results. Until the time and effort given to important subjects, itself becomes reasonable. The study materials and the sources that are used, here have to be the right materials. Just because the book says introduction to logic does not mean it’s an effective source for learning the art of reasoning. We’ve got to give our children an excellent course of studies, we’ve got to make sure they study from the right sources, we’ve got to make sure they have the support that they need to put in sufficient time and energy to make progress. You know, there’s warnings. There’s warnings about the study of science, you’ve probably heard these sayings, they say things like a little bit of science will make you an atheist. And everyone sort of giggles at that, and laughs it off. And then assumes that that’s not talking about them when it is talking about them. Because there are two different kinds of atheism. There’s real I would say simple atheism where a person doesn’t believe in God and, and says so. Most people who identify Christians won’t publicly profess to believe that there is no God. However, there are many Christians who while they say that they believe in God, think and live and act and talk as one would, who doesn’t believe in God. And these are called practical atheists. In much of their behavior and their way of thinking, in the way they speak in the way they act, the way they do things, the way they respond to things. They do exactly what atheists do they are practical atheists. Well, we’re told that this modern tendency towards atheism is often caused by a shallow Introduction to Modern natural sciences. And this is the knowledge that most people have. And this is the knowledge that many people give to their children. They say Oh, well, the high school requires that you study some biology. So let’s let’s study a little bit of biology. Let’s study a little bit of chemistry. Let’s study a little physics. Well, a little bit of science commonly leads people to atheism. So this idea of studying a little that a little is better than nothing is actually false. It’s not true that a little is necessarily better than nothing. So we’ve either got to avoid it so that we don’t have that outcome. Or if we get into it, we’ve got to get into it sufficiently to make progress. is where at least we’ve got to have a good teacher who protects us from the common errors that arise in modern science studies, most importantly, the abandonment of the principles of modern science themselves. The fact that modern science is supposed to be experimental and not dogmatic, that children are supposed to learn that there are theories or to propose theories, and then use experiments to test whether the theories are true or not to be catechized with theories as if they’re truths. That’s one of the reasons why science produces atheism. Because the teachers contract contradict the principles of modern science and turn it into a religion. That’s used to indoctrinate children to think a certain way, about the natural world. The kids are not taught to be scientists, but to be believers. We’ve got to be careful that we give it sufficient time. We use the right sources, we use the right methods, we use the right program of studies and so on. And thankfully, as Catholics, this has all been provided to us by wise men and saints of the past. We’ve got to immerse our kids. In that course of studies. We’ve got to stop with this modern, shallow school activity that’s done just to get grades in the gradebook. All of this research paper nonsense. The kids have to learn the arts and sciences they have to learn the principles of reasoning. Very, very few students even make it past the first of Aristotle’s works on reasoning. For example, if we look at Aristotle’s works on reasoning, which altogether called the Organon, we’ll see that it starts with a book called the categories then goes on to on interpretation and prior analytics, posterior analytics topics and sophistical refutations most modern people have no idea what these books even are about or what the titles even mean. And that’s the problem. That’s how ignorant we are. A little bit is really not going to help the kids. For example, one of the most important lessons in studying reasoning is to learn about logical fallacies common false arguments that people tend to make either intentionally or accidentally, that are the causes of a lot of confusion and deception. Well, those fallacies are learned in the last of Aristotle’s books on reasoning sophistical refutations. So if kids are just getting started, before they stop, they never even get to those lessons. The art of reasoning, the art of using a syllogism is taught in the third book of Aristotle’s work on reasoning, the prior analytics. So if the kids don’t get into these works, if they don’t have the opportunity to get into the real meat of the subjects, they’re just not learning these essential lessons. And most of the time, they don’t learn these things because they’re too busy trying to check all the boxes that ignorant people are telling them are needed for college admission, all of which is false. So if we’re going to raise kids that know how to think, know how to pursue answers to questions, know how to solve problems, know the right use of research know how to use sources in a in a reasonable way. They’re going to have to learn the art of reasoning. They’re going to have to learn the art of rhetoric. And they’re really going to have to be immersed in these studies. Studying for a diploma is what ignorant common people do. That’s not sufficient for a Christian education. That’s not sufficient for a real human education. Getting a diploma is an artificial achievement. It doesn’t, doesn’t prove anything. But we’ve actually convinced ourselves that these artificial milestones are some kind of real achievement. This is why students cheat because getting the diploma is set up as the milestone getting the grade is set up as the objective. Cheating is rampant through modern schools for one reason, it works. Now we’ve got even bigger problems. I see college professors and teachers writing about them all the time on social media, Google and chat GPT artificial intelligence is just creating total chaos in modern schools and colleges. And the reason why is because the curriculum is so shallow, and so common that everything that a teacher explains in class or teaches or covers, it’s all so basic, so common. That chat GPT could easily write an essay that satisfies all the requirements of a modern school course. A kid can answer all the questions on his homework assignment without reading the book, because he can just google the questions. And this is all just common, basic information. The the education has become so shallow, and the standards have become so low, that the answers to the homework questions are available online. And that’s not Google’s fault. That’s not chat. GPT is fault. It’s not the fault of artificial intelligence. It’s the fault of schools and teachers, the standards have become so low, that one doesn’t even need to study to complete the assignments. And so this, this low standard, these artificial standards, these fake educational milestones, have schools and colleges in real trouble now, it was cute back in the 90s. But it’s a real mess in the 21st century. And it’s going to get worse and worse. And what I see, what I see schools and colleges doing is just throwing their hands up and saying, Oh, well, there’s nothing we can do about it. Let’s just roll with it. I see my own kids doing that in college. There’s no way that professors are going to keep it all out. And so finally, they just make a few requirements. And they just allow it. And that’s it learning is over. And that’s the school’s fault, their vanilla curriculum, their low standards have made it easy to just copy and paste your way through a college degree program. And you can go get the degree, you can get the diploma, you can check all the boxes, but you’re you don’t have anything in the end. And everyone knows that. So it’s just like inflation. The diplomas and degrees no longer have any real value because everyone knows you can just cheat your way to them. So it really doesn’t matter. What’s going to matter is actual performance in real world environments. That’s what’s going to matter to matter. The ability for a person to answer a question or find a solution to a problem, real time a new problem, a complex problem, a problem you can’t google the answer for that’s going to be easy to observe in real life contexts in business, and research, and so on. And the diplomas and degrees are going to become less and less significant. And the actual ability to perform is going to become more and more significant and kids are not being educated. For real performance. They’re being educated to get these inflated diplomas and degrees. And that’s what we have to stop as Christians we can’t just get in line and say oh, look, we can take the shortcut to let’s go get the degree ours Self, just like everybody, we’re accountable to higher standards, because we have to actually go into the world and make disciples, we have to actually go into the world as the laity and direct temporal affairs, according to God’s will, according to a real objective. And not just some declining relative and staying one step ahead of the neighbor is not sufficient for the Christian life. And this is the challenge we face in the chat GPT age, Christians are either going to go down that road with the unbelievers or they’re going to focus on real Christian standards. And they’re going to be like, the light of the world that they’re supposed to be. So this is what the kids need. They read, they need real Christian studies, real classical Catholic studies, they can’t settle for these modern school requirements, artificial academic milestones, we can’t allow ourselves to settle into these things. We’ve got to keep our aim set on the unchanging standards of Christian learning. Because the devil is a deceiver, we’ve got to be trained to know how to identify and resist deception that belongs to the art of reasoning. We’ve got to learn how to handle misleading persuasive communication and propaganda that belongs to the art of rhetoric. These subjects aren’t required for a high school diploma. And so we’ve got to aim higher, and make sure we raise kids that are actually learning to think and reason effectively, because that’s the real goal of their learning. Now, for Christians, I’ll close with this. For Christians, we have an advantage. Because we have real, authoritative, timeless, proven sources. We have sacred scripture, as the source of divine revelation. Now that’s a source to appeal to for proof. That’s a real source, Sacred Scripture, the word of God. That’s a source that we should be citing when we wish to prove things to be true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, that’s a source that’s an authoritative source that we should be turning to in our research for answers to controversial questions and challenging problems, we should be looking to the Catechism. We should be looking to the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, as another great catalog of topical answers, an authoritative source a doctor of the church. So you can see as Catholics, we have real sources, real authoritative sources. Now, we can’t necessarily cite these sources, when we’re writing or speaking in a context in a context where there are unbelievers because it’s by faith, that we hold these sources to be true and trustworthy. So wouldn’t make much sense to go into a crowd of atheists or Muslims and quote from the Gospel of Matthew. That would be a persuasive source, if the audience was Christian, but not if the audience is not Christian. And therefore this leads us into the study of philosophy so that we can learn to make philosophical arguments that are persuasive at a human level that no human being can get away from. And for this, were commanded by the church to study and appeal to the authority of Aristotle. So we shouldn’t be Aristotelian ins. We should be studying St. Thomas Aquinas, we should be scholastic Catholics. We should be studying the catechisms we should be studying Sacred Scripture. These are real authoritative sources for answering controversial questions for solving difficult problems. We should know these sources backwards and forwards when someone asks us a question, our mind should be immediately searching, scrolling through the Catechism through the Scriptures, through the Summa Theologica through the writings of Aristotle. What have we read? What have we seen? What have we studied that addresses this question? Sometimes it’s not direct. Sometimes we have to know how to use the sources in creative ways to make new connections we’ve never made before. And we can only do this if we’re steeped in these sources. That’s where the answers come from. And like I said, we’ve got to consider the audience when we attempt to write or speak persuasively. But getting to the truth is step one. Communicating that truth is step two. We’ve got to make sure we accomplish step one first, many people are ready to run and speak before they’ve even answered a question. They’re trying to be persuasive before they’ve actually solve the problem. We need to learn to seek the truth, understand it for ourselves. And then think of how to communicate it most effectively, to our unique and constantly changing audience. We’ve got to answer the questions first, and Christians today don’t have answers to the questions. Most of it is just parroting political sound bites, passing around memes on social media. It’s it’s an ignorant culture. And our opponents know that. And that’s why they scoff at Christians. They scoff at Christians as deplorables as ignorant parrots that simply repeat what they’ve heard someone else say. And they know that Christians, if Christians were sincere, and actually lived according to Christian principles, they know that Christians would not think and act and communicate the way that they do. And that’s our fault. So we’ve got sources that we should really be immersed in. Another important discipline that we need to learn is to focus on one question at a time. Focus on one question at a time. Often when I talk to people, they’ll want to argue with me about something. And they’ll throw a paragraph of information at me that contains 10 different points, that they’re making 10 Different assertions. There’s no way to communicate like that. And we’ve got to learn to avoid the, the stupid response to to try to respond when we’re presented with a big, messy, naughty idea that needs to be broken down into all of its parts and pieces, so that we can examine each one of those pieces. By itself. We have to learn to be simple. We have to learn to focus on one question at a time and not try to run to more complex questions before we’ve established the answers to the more elementary questions that those complex questions depend on. This is why the study of Euclidean geometry is helpful for general learning, because it teaches us what it feels like to start with elements or principles and to slowly one step at a time. Build a body of knowledge. That’s certain on those principles. Most Christians don’t do this today, they’ll respond with a 1000 word, essay, because they’ve all been told how important essays are. And what they can’t understand is that there’s 25 different arguments made in that essay, and there’s no reasonable way to even respond to it. And we’ve gotten so accustomed to this, that it’s just paper after paper, book after book here, here’s a link to a 40 minute video, here’s a, here’s a link to a book, you should read this book. That’s not how reasoning works. That’s not how reasoning works. If we’re going to have any kind of productive discussion, or even productive study, we’ve got to ask, what is the first question? And we’ve got to start there. And if it takes us three years to answer the first question. So be it. There’s no use trying to pretend that you’re ready for question two, if you haven’t answered question one yet. And most Christian discussion is just a big sloppy mess. It’s not serious. There’s no real concern for truth. There’s no concern for certainty, no concern for accuracy. It’s just like throwing handfuls of rocks, at targets. It’s just information all over the place. People appeal to history, as proof as if as if the the historical knowledge is all absolutely certain and proven. History is as uncertain as anything else. We can’t appeal to something uncertain as proof for something else, we can’t. So we’ve got to simplify. Unless we commit to these things, we’re not going to make any progress as Christians, our kids are not going to grow up to be reasonable. And we’ve got to make this commitment first ourselves so that we can model this behavior for our kids. I hope that’s helpful. God bless

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