REASON: A GIFT TO BE NURTURED
Malcolm D. Evans
While the traditional three Rs—reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic—provide learners with the foundation for learning, the use of that basic knowledge and subsequent learning is what makes a difference in the quality of life for individuals and societies. Our uniquely human gift of reason enables us to acquire and use knowledge. You are invited to engage in exploration and explication of reason as a human quality to be nurtured through education. Let me set forth some of the most cogent reasons for us, as educators, to know and understand the several dimensions of reason, reasoning, reasonableness, and critical thinking.
Alfred North Whitehead’s famous epigram, “The function of reason is to promote the art of life” (1929, p. 4), puts the issue squarely in terms of a totality we sometimes forget as we hasten to cover material, to prepare for exams, or to explore interesting facts and events. “The art of life”! A wonderful, mind-opening notion! That Whiteheadian notion is a guiding frame for your consideration of reasons for reasoning.
A more fundamental reason, I suggest, is that we live in a world of constant, rapid change. Our society is not only changing, it is increasingly complex, at times chaotic; to discern the way ahead is extremely difficult. The relationships of emotional, personal, and civic considerations often make clear reasoning difficult. Clarity of thought is required. Issues of environment, population, distribution of resources, public health, international relations, nationalism, and community—all problems of a highly technological, global society—require a level of reasoning not previously demanded
I will shine the spotlight of inquiry on the skills and competencies required, using as a running example a commercially prepared biological study unit, Task Force Environmental Investigations Kit (Nolan and Nolan, 1997). That unit, composed of two CDs and supplementary materials, is about conflict in the Pacific Northwest between environmentalists and sportsmen on one side and industries—aluminum, agriculture, and transportation—on the other side. The unit requires students to examine alternatives to the status quo. One contentious proposal is to remove four dams on the Snake River, thereby allowing salmon full access to their spawning grounds. This proposal, if enacted, would impact everyone in the region. The conflicts resulting from this radical proposal, if they are to be resolved, require gathering data in useful form, analyzing the data, forming