Oct 2, 2021 • 6 minute read

A Subject of Logical Deduction

Improving pedadogy by teaching the essence

STEM subjects often refer to those with rigorous backing. I've seen people fight over whether some subjects really fit into the STEM label. Accounting might include math, but it's not really STEM. Linguistics is a social science, not a rigorous science, so it's not STEM either. Code is STEM since it fits under the technology label, but it feels far less rigorous than any of the other categories.

At the end of the day, a label is only as good as its application. If you're in the business of handing out scholarships to students in STEM fields, you might want to take a second and think about why. Maybe your reasoning allows you to branch out, or perhaps it forces you to constrain. Maybe you heard that STEM pays well. Many jobs in academia that fit into STEM do not. Maybe you want prestige. I'm sure there are jobs within business or general academia outside of STEM that carry a similar title to what you're looking for.

# Less About STEM

But no, there is a more specific label that I've been looking for. I think there is a much more clear division in subject matter than simply the rigor of the topic. It's whether a curriculum's entire corpus could theoretically be deduced from a few small principles. A kind of curriculum exactly like this is rather rare, but there are those that can be more analogous of it than others.

You see, I've often found certain subjects to be of more difficulty than others. This experience, I've also found, is not universal. Some topics I found simple, others found difficult. The opposite is also true. This relationship tended to be more connected with whether or not I enjoy the subject. I enjoyed Linguistics, so it was easy. I didn't enjoy calculus, so it was difficult. This was certainly subjective, but there was an essence to certain subjects that seemed to pass that barrier. Economics and Statistics shared something. Chemistry and Anthropology shared something.

It was that certain subjects were more about shaping your mental model than introducing concepts to memorize. Sure, there were many names and new things to memorize in economics. And sure, there were ways in which a better mental model would serve you well in Chemistry. Yet, some subjects stood closer to this purity. I'm not even sure if even mathematics itself stood exactly inside this category, but it was close. Some subjects taught you a majority of themselves rather quickly. After that, most of the course could have been deduced. It often wasn't, even by the brightest of students, but that principle of it made it unique in its instruction.

Oh how I despised those classes where cramming was a real possibility before a test. Those subjects were useful, and perhaps teaching it that way was the best way to teach it, but it wasn't a very pretty pedagogy. Other subjects which were more about expanding your own perspective and model of the space were infinitely more interesting to me. The kind of subject that can induce a Eureka Effect seems so much more attractive. Sometimes I’ll judge a subject by the number of Eureka moments I have. If it has none, I either already know the subject, or this subject is not one that often lends itself to induce a shift in perspective.

# A Kernel To A Popcorn

A subject of logical deduction. Such a subject is not often limited by your reading speed - nor, hopefully your typing speed (English classes were not fun). The barrier in learning such a subject is more often... you. It is not that you are to blame for your misunderstanding - we rarely are to blame for anything. Instead, this labeling tells us that putting more work into the subject can lead to positive results. It is not memorization you should be struggling with, but instead with warping your view of things. Left alone on an island with naught but a textbook with most of its pages missing, you should be able to construct the entire domain of knowledge in your mind.

I bring up this label, because it seems that we have lost the utility of labeling fields. I have seen people put certain topics onto a pedestal because they hail from the STEM sector. They often don't realize that while this topic’s origin is from a subject of a logical deduction, this topic itself is not much more than rote memorization.

# HTML Is A Programming Language

CSS and HTML are likely programming languages. It's a silly debate, but they are languages reserved for computer interpretation that happen to also be very readable by humans. What people are not properly communicating, however, is that many associate programming with a subject of logical deduction. This label, for most programming language constructs, is not a correct one. Computer Science might be more aligned with a field of logical deduction, but many of its child subjects are not. One might pride themselves on having the mind to properly understand computer science and then throw away HTML and CSS from their label on the field, so as not to diminish their accomplishments elsewhere. Understanding how a particular language does iteration or control flow is also another subject that is not of logical deduction. It is more so memorization. Checking how JavaScript works by reading the specification is certainly a task that will give you a better understanding of the language and help to correct your mental model. It is also information that you couldn’t have deduced elsewhere, however.

Truly, I think we should strive to move as many fields as possible closer to one that is a subject of logical deduction. For many, this is inherently very very difficult. It also might be a barrier to many who would much rather memorize sentences than change the way they approach things. But by doing so, we create less to teach. By always going over the highest level overview of topics and listing bullet points to memorize, we inherently create tasks that are automatable and boring. We don’t teach anything. We give facts and statements.

For some fields, their pedagogical nature is not inherent to the problem it hopes to solve. Take CSS for example. While it has become a very common way to style things, its API design is simply that - a design. They are instructions for a lower level operation and thus we should be able to create a new styling language which can compile down to CSS or be used as the primary language for some non-web based environment. This requires us to tear down the topic itself, but we are still able to accomplish the same task - this time, with a fundamentally better language.

HTML has much of its lack of logical deduction somewhat baked in, however. A lot of HTML's tag names exist for accessibility reasons. Many aspects of HTML (but not all) exist necessarily due to the domain. Modifying it in a way to be still accessible, but more so a subject of logical deduction might require us to change accessibility software or human interaction itself. Any circumstance in which we can move a subject to a higher state of purity, we definitely should.

# Pedagogy

How we might change subjects such as CSS to one of more logical deduction I will explain another day. This philosophy underlies a lot of solid pedagogical process. Thinking in terms of the essence and explaining it from inside out often seems to be a much better way of teaching a topic. The feeling of truly understanding a topic and only needing slight illumination for new material is a much more favorable learning environment than the alternative.