The Importance of Analogical Reasoning

By Johnson, Doris McNeely; Roberts, Albert | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 26, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Importance of Analogical Reasoning


Johnson, Doris McNeely, Roberts, Albert, Black Issues in Higher Education


The following letter is in response to University of California President Richard Atkinson's recommendation to do away with the SAT and instead emphasize the SAT II, a series of subject-based achievement tests (see BLACK ISSUES, March 15).

First, we applaud Dr. Atkinson's efforts to make the admissions process to institutions of higher learning faker to both females and minorities. A more equitable assessment for admissions can only better serve future college students and the country. Second, we agree with Dr. Atkinson's view that teachers should not subject students to hours of drills studying verbal analogies in preparation for the SAT. In many difficult verbal analogies, often times the extent of the students' vocabularies is measured rather than their ability to use true analogical reasoning. Additionally, we agree that teaching to a test does not significantly help the students if they believe they must learn the information to pass a particular test and that the information does not have much relevance for their lives outside the testing room.

However, having stated our, points of agreement with Dr. Atkinson's views, some other elements deeply concern us. Our first concern is that the public is unaware of the central role that analogical reasoning, not just solving verbal analogies, occupies in human cognition. The public may begin to believe that analogies, and by extension, analogical reasoning, is trivial. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At the time of the ancient Greeks, philosophers recognized, discussed and wrote about the importance of analogy and analogical processes in both language and other aspects of the universe. Aristotle gave us the classic A:B :: C:D format still in use today.

Our second major concern is that the public may perceive that what is being said is that minorities cannot solve analogies, or at least, not very well; therefore, we should abolish analogies as an assessment tool. …

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