Kenya: How ‘logic and critical thinking’ class changed the way I think
19 January 2013

Students of the JC-HEM project in Kakuma busy at their work stations at the facility run by JRS . (Katie Allan/JRS)
The most interesting thing is that, most of us commit a lot of mistakes in our thinking, constructing claims and evaluating the claims.
Kakuma, 19 January 2013 - Communication plays an important part in our daily lives. This is especially because, as human beings, we are meant to be with others. Part of our life requires that we create relationships with others - in the family, at school, at work places, and in the community. Communication involves many things - verbal and non-verbal messages, meta-messages, and evaluation of such messages. It is human nature to use defensive communication to make claims about personalities, deeds, needs, and behaviors. Many of us always want to look smart before others. We often prefer that our ideas and opinions be the best of all. In this way, we use argumentative language to convince others to accept what we think. While we create our own claims, we also often make ourselves ready to counteract or evaluate the arguments that others make - unconsciously.

The most interesting thing is that, most of us commit a lot of mistakes in our thinking, constructing claims and evaluating the claims. We need to learn about logic and critical thinking. I would wish to share the lessons that I learned from a Logic and Critical Thinking course provided under the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC: HEM) project in Kakuma. In this essay I will start with a short story of my life in relation to the learning under JC: HEM project. Then, I will highlight some skills derived from the Logic course, and how the course changed my thinking. Finally, I will discuss the effects that I have seen after 8 weeks of the course.

My Story.My name is Pierre* and come from South-Kivu, in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. My province is one of the most affected by civilian troubles, wars, ethnic fighting and is the entry point for most external aggression in Congo. Since 2010, I run a Community Based Organization with some friends. We spend hours offering care and support to HIV positive people and orphaned children, and running human rights trainings to refugees. We also run functional literacy classes, communicative English lessons, and vocational trainings (dressmaking, hairdressing, and weaving) for women and senior children in the camp. I joined the Diploma Course in Liberal Studies offered by the Regis University, USA under the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC: HEM) project. This opportunity has changed my life. If I mentioned everything I have learned since I started this course on September 2011, this essay would take more than 30 pages.

In short, I am becoming a good communicator. My leadership skills and servant-ship desires are improving from day to day. The more I continue with this course, the more I discover who I am, what my weaknesses and values are, and what my place in the community is. "Ubuntu" has come to be one of my esteemed ideals in life. "Ubuntu" is the spirit in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interest of building and maintaining the community. … Ubuntu addresses our interconnectedness, our common humanity, and the responsibility to one another that flows from that connection (Nussbaum, 2009). Ubuntu makes me who I am today - an optimistic and compassionate servant, a man for the service of others.

After I complete my studies, I plan to expand my community based organization (CBO) to become a non-governmental organization (NGO) that will serve the poor and the disadvantaged, as well as promote justice and solidarity in the sub-Sahara African society. I would also like to become a writer, whose writings are based on life experiences and can effect positive change.

'Logic and Critical Thinking' changed my thinking.Learning about logical reasoning and critical thinking is an important tool that helps us effectively construct our own claims and support them with appropriate evidence. From October 6 to December 15, 2012, students in the JC:HEM project, that started in 2011, undertook a precious module on Logic and Critical Thinking. The course was held at the Gonzaga online Blackboard, and has been helpful to the students. Logic has given us (students) the capacity to evaluate the arguments that others make to us, but also to build our own arguments, while using effective evidence to support our claims. I remember many times where I made arguments based on relatively weak reasoning. I was good at giving conclusions, but very poor at supporting my conclusions with appropriate evidence.

In mid 2012, one member of our CBO (whom I name Mr. John*) argued that we should stop all our activities and focus on external fundraising for some months. He claimed that we had volunteered for more than two years without any external support, so we had to stop. More than half of the members in that meeting supported his ideas. I was confused, because I could not accept such an argument. I decided to go on the offensive. I started by attacking John's personal life, instead of referring to his ideas. I claimed that John gave the opinion because he had little education, and knew very little about organization work and voluntarism. I also maintained that since John had been a businessman for long, he would always seek financial benefits in whatever he did. I concluded that the idea could never be accepted, based on the evidence I assumed was enough.

I think that was a weak reasoning I committed in the example above. I was lucky because no one discovered the fallacy. Even myself, I learned that I made a fallacy only in the seventh week of my Logic course. Since then, I have been as careful as I can to make my arguments based on appropriate reasoning. I learned later that I had an alternative claim to present against John's ideas, but I unknowingly chose to attack his personality instead. The Logic course has changed my reasoning, as it had changed many of my fellow colleagues.

This course helped me construct and evaluate arguments and distinguish different types of arguments. I learned about the analogical reasoning used in law, moral reasoning, differentiating vagueness and ambiguity, recognizing fallacious arguments, using categorical propositions, and many more lessons.

After the course - results seen.I have seen my way of communicating and making defensive dialogue change in the recent days. When I make arguments, I try my best to seek for enough evidence. My intention is to make my communication as clear as possible. I do not intend to be a communication expert at this time. I try to understand how people form their arguments and help them when I can, to have strong support for their claims. It has been a pleasure to me that I am able to notice whenever I commit a fallacy. I did not memorize the names of fallacies, but understand when I have committed a fallacy and try to correct where appropriate.

I would wish to express my many thanks to the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC: HEM) project and Regis University, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), and all the other universities and funders that have made this online course available to us. Your efforts and funds are changing our minds. I do hope this change will impact the refugee societies in Kakuma, Dzaleka and Amman. And, this change will have an impact on Africa - and the whole world. May peace be with you all! Let the spirit of "Ubuntu" be with you all. "I am who I am because of who you are to me".

*This name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved

JRS began work in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Higher Education at the Margins is a partnership initiative between Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Jesuit Commons (JC). JC is a group of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities committed to linking world-wide Jesuit educational resources with populations affected by war, displacement and poverty in order to promote greater equality in access to knowledge for the sake of their development. The programme offers a dynamic model of tertiary education to refugees, promoting education as a fundamental human right in the most rugged circumstances.