In the classic C. S. Lewis tale “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the Professor offers his disbelief at how little the children seem to know about logic. As he tries to help them reason through a mystery, he asks, “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”
Now as a debate rages among Southern Baptists over whether or not to send children to public schools, the issue of logic once again arises. After hearing the complaints of those attacking public schools, I suggest that Lewis’ Professor would again ask, “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”
In the communication courses I teach at a large public university, I cover issues of logical fallacies and basic argumentation. Based on the rhetoric of some of the anti-public school activists, I do not believe they would do very well in my classes. Such a deficiency in logical abilities is an important issue because these individuals want us to trust them to make educational decisions for the next generation.
The first logical error critics of public schools make is they condemn all public schools, rather than looking at the merits of each school individually. This logical fallacy is known as the hasty generalization, or stereotyping. However, just as one cannot accurately making a sweeping generalization about a racial group based on stereotypes, one also cannot logically cast out all public schools based on the failures of a few.
While anti-public school rhetors can offer a few isolated anecdotes of poor public schools that does not mean there should be an “exit strategy” from all public schools. For instance, the public school I attended was not only excellent, but it was the best option for me. Many of my teachers were faithful Christians and I received a far greater education than I could have had I attended the small private schools in my area or attempted home-schooling. That is why this discussion must be done at the local and not the national level.
Another logical fallacy often used by anti-public school activists is what is called the ad hominem fallacy, which is Latin for “to the man.” This is when a rhetor attacks the person and not the arguments. This is a logical fallacy because it does not actually prove your point. For instance, just because your opponent is ugly that does not mean they are wrong on the issue of whether or not to cut taxes.
After my first column for Ethics Daily supporting public schools, I received emails from anti-public school activists calling me a number of names. Individuals labeled me “an ideologue or a lunatic,” a “useful idiot,” “unGodly” and other names. If one of my students resorted to this approach instead of talking about the issues, they would probably be taking the class again the next semester.
Rather than responding to the merits of my arguments, they resorted to unethical name-calling. Such tactics are not only inaccurate but have no place in responsible dialogue. Perhaps such individuals should check out the admonitions in James 3 and elsewhere in Scripture about the dangers of the tongue.
Another logical error often made by anti-public school rhetors is that of confusing cause and effect. This is argument that two things are happening together so therefore one must cause the other. For instance, one might argue that more people die at hospitals than anywhere else, so therefore hospitals are killing people. Obviously, there is a more plausible answer that perhaps it is because dying people go to hospitals.
This error occurs often in the anti-public school rhetoric, including in this year’s proposed SBC resolution. For example, one of the reasons given to form an “exit strategy is, “Whereas, studies by Barna Research, Dr. Christian Smith, and The Nehemiah Institute have found that a large majority of children from Christian families do not have a Christian worldview.”
This does not actually prove that public schools are to blame. In fact, one could argue that the real problem is that the parents or the churches have not done their job and therefore it would be a mistake to either have children home-schooled or attending a private church-run school. Many other so-called “facts” given to condemn public schools actually do not prove that these schools are to blame.
There are many other examples of these fallacies I could offer and there are other types of fallacies I could point to in the anti-public school arguments. However, is should be quite clear that there are a number of problems with these arguments. Thus it would be a mistake for Southern Baptists to call for an “exit strategy” when the case against public schools is far from being proven.
Additionally, these logical problems should cause us to question whether or not we should trust those who make the case against public schools. If they are unable to follow basic principles of logic and argumentation, why should they be trusted to make educational decisions for our children?
After struggling to teach logic to the children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Professor again asks, “I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.” After examining the arguments of anti-public school leaders, the Professor would perhaps ask instead, “I wonder what they would teach them at these schools.” Based on the flaws in the arguments against public schools, voting for an “exit strategy” seems to be truly illogical.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.