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Dyscalculia and logic class
November 23, 2010 4:48 AM   Subscribe

I have a learning disability (dyscalculia/mathematics disorder). Could I handle the formal language component of an undergrad Introduction to Logic class?

I like philosophy, and want to take a logic class. My school won't waive their requirement to take a college-level math class, but it can be satisified with the logic class. Win/win, but I'm worried about the formal language that will eventually be involved because after high school I was formally tested and diagnosed with dyscalculia ("mathematics disorder" in the DSM-IV). Until then, everyone told me that I was "gifted and talented"/"bright" but bad at math because I just didn't try hard enough.

I'm new to using the ADA/Americans with Disabilities Act for accomodations for it. The school's director of Disablity Services says the school won't waive the math requirement, but that I could take a logic class instead.

I'm scared of screwing up my only option because I don't know if I could handle formal language. Does anybody have experience with these issues?
posted by autoclavicle to Education (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In the UK an intro to logic for Philosophy would largely focus on propositional and predicate calculus which I imagine would be problematic for you.
posted by zemblamatic at 5:10 AM on November 23, 2010

A goodly portion of an Intro to Logic will likely consist of formal, symbolic logic. If your dyscalculia presents itself in being terrible with the norms of shifting variables around in algebra, then yes, you'll have problems. If it's more along the lines of flaking when you add 63 and 52, or having difficulty with the concepts of different kinds of numbers, then the symbolic logic ought to be OK.
posted by notsnot at 5:13 AM on November 23, 2010

It would probably help if you could list examples of math problems that you can do and math problems that you can't.
posted by empath at 5:51 AM on November 23, 2010

I briefly tutored a guy whose dyscalculia made him bad with symbols, but he was ok with the word equivalents (2 + 4 incomprehensible, two plus four no problem). If yours is similar, the nice thing about symbolic logic is that you can get a long way with the word equivalents ("if this then that"; "this and that imply those"). But some statements will get very, very long and convoluted in word form; they're wade-through-able, but be prepared for a bit of a slog.

I suspect lectures and readings would be difficult, since the professor and the textbook will probably use the symbols --- maybe you could ask Disability Services if they can help you arrange for someone to "translate" for you?
posted by dorque at 6:17 AM on November 23, 2010

FWIW, my sister, who was diagnosed with dyscalculia, was told that as the mathematics got more abstract, she would find it easier, but that her problem was with the arithmetic part. This may or may not be relevant to your particular diagnosis.

I would assume an intro to logic for philosophy would be about half propositional calculus, half predicate calculus. For the purposes of these courses, propositional calculus is constants(A,B,C) and functions like if, and, or, iff, not, xor. Predicate calculus is the same, plus variables which can be quantified with all/every, some and no/none. It is likely that the course will compare the mathematics to natural language.
posted by jeather at 6:19 AM on November 23, 2010

FWIW, my sister, who was diagnosed with dyscalculia, was told that as the mathematics got more abstract, she would find it easier, but that her problem was with the arithmetic part. This may or may not be relevant to your particular diagnosis.

I've also been told this.

In my experience, I often had to do what dorque suggested--read the problems/proofs/etc out loud--in order to make sure I wasn't transposing something in my head or misunderstanding a symbol. It does make it more time intensive, but it's doable.
posted by elfgirl at 6:25 AM on November 23, 2010

Introductory logic classes rely heavily on symbolic manipulation, and therefore are very much like algebra and calculus. (I mean that these three things are similar in that you manipulate symbols to get from a starting point to a finishing point. Beyond that, not too many similarities.)

I don't know anything about discalcua but I would start with that point--that introductory logic classes at the college level are about the manipulation of logical symbols in order to prove or disprove propositions.
posted by dfriedman at 6:39 AM on November 23, 2010

I think you could. I too apparently (undiagnosed) have dyscalculia (long list of symptoms listed; but hey now I'm happy to hear it's real). I worked my career/school around it.

1. I went to an art college which required math OR science
2. chose a field I'm good in--science writing/pharmaceutical advertising--you dont' have to know how to do calculations but the logic of the effectiveness of a drug is pretty apparent in a study if you read the abstract then discussion. All of the numbers, formularies, data--not important.
3. taught myself web design/HTML--again, some may consider math but really it's about logic

For me it was about picturing what's going on rather than getting tense about numbers. have zero sense nor comprehension with any math formula (lately even multplying is giving me a hard time) but you can find ways to work around it.

Don't give up. You can find your gifts and highlight them into a bright future, career, and degree. It's not like you're clueless going "I'm going to be a math teacher, gosh darn it!". Just be real and accept your limitations--then work around them.
posted by stormpooper at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2010

I did this - took Intro to Logic to fulfill the math requirement of my liberal arts degree due to dyscalculia - and I had a lot of trouble with it. I was a history and philosophy double major and logic was BY FAR the most difficult class I had in college. I got through it with a lot of help and work. At my tiny college I was able to work directly with the professor for extra help after classes, and you should try to do that, or arrange a way to get the assistance you need through Disability Services or a tutor or wherever. But if I did it I'm sure you can too. Good luck!
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:12 AM on November 23, 2010

FWIW I was fortunate to have an early diagnosis of dyscalculia; I don't know how severe yours is but I struggle to dial phone numbers. The only math class where I actually did well was geometry. Logic would have not been a good choice for me but dyscalculia is very variable. I'd consult with a TA from that class and go through the kinds of exercises you'll need to do by the end of the term to see if you can at least grasp them.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2010

Can you go speak with the professor?

I'm dyscalcic, and had, of all things, a stats class that opened a whole new world for me, because the lab instructor was willing to try different things until I understood what was going on. The quality of the instruction and/or willingness of the instructor or assistants may be more important than what class you take.
posted by QIbHom at 7:27 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know that much about dyscalculia. But I can tell you as someone who teaches applied discrete math in various contexts, that most people perceive major qualitative differences between what is involved in doing logic/set theory/etc. and what is involved in doing algebra/calculus/etc., and that people who have an affinity for one don't necessarily have an affinity for the other. That is, one's experience in math courses at the high school level in the US typically has almost no bearing on whether you can do or will like more discrete topics in math (at least for someone without discalculia). It is true, though, that in a philosophical logic class they are likely to teach some syntactic modes of reasoning (e.g. natural deduction?) that can be close-ish to algebra, but I would still give it a shot and see what it is like. This is what add/drop periods are for!

(Also, if you like philosophy, you are arguably closing off the most important parts of analytic philosophy as well as your understanding of the historical development of the field by not taking a logic class at some point. You shouldn't feel guilty if your condition prevents you from being able to do it, but this might be an ideal place to try to push your boundaries.)
posted by advil at 7:54 AM on November 23, 2010

I don't have dyscalculia and don't know anything about it. I am very very bad at arithmetic and math was my worst subject in school, I barely passed a GCSE with a grade C at age 16 and never touched math again.

I got top marks in formal logic for my software engineering degree. Apparently multilinguals tend to be really good at it.
posted by tel3path at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2010

It really depends on your type of dyscalculia. I have poor digit span and mild sequencing disabilities. I'm good at mathematical concepts and symbols, but crunching numbers is murder. The more math corresponds to language, the better I 'speak' it.

I rocked formal logic so hard that the prof set me up to tutor struggling students the next semester.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2010

I have taught university-level mathematics courses, including linear algebra, to students with dyscalculia. Some accommodations (cf. the ADA's very specific language) were generally in play; the most common were (a) extra time on tests and/or (b) permission to use calculators in settings where they were generally disallowed.

The reason I mention linear algebra specifically is because a lot of the exercises involve a ton of arithmetic--but the Big Ideas (linearity, linear independence, kernel and image, dimension, eigenstuff) don't need to be communicated in a particularly numerical way.

Talk to your university's disability resource center about what accommodations might be appropriate. I say go for the logic class if it seems interesting to you, but don't let your disability dictate your choice of class--if there's another math course that, with accommodations, you think you could enjoy and do well in, try it!
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 9:18 AM on November 23, 2010

Definitely go talk to the prof. If you can't figure out who will be teaching it, look at the philosophy department website -- it should list one of the professors as Director of Undergraduate Studies (if you're at a large school) or Chair (if you're at a small school). You can set up an appointment to talk with either of those profs, they are tasked with helping students decide about philosophy courses.

They should be able to give you some examples of the range of tasks you would do in intro logic, which will help you to figure out if you have a hard time with any of them. They should also be able to talk about how your school teaches the course -- some schools use mainly symbols, some schools use mainly words.

Some schools also offer a course "below" logic, called something like "critical thinking" or "informal logic", which would be much more heavily word-based, very few symbols. I don't know if that would satisfy your math requirement, though.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:26 AM on November 23, 2010

I don't have a diagnosed disorder, but my score on the "Math" part of a standard intelligence test was under 85. I did just fine with formal logic, even though I can barely add even one-digit numbers in my head.
posted by Electrius at 10:13 AM on November 23, 2010

I've never been formally diagnosed but after workin at an LD non profit, feel that I too suffer.

I found statistics, of the social scientific nature, to be a whole new world for me.

Finally I get it in a way that I never did in traditional math.

Fast forward and I'm nearly done in a very statistics-heavy PhD program and I'm a total stats nerd, taking well beyond what was required AND I'm soon starting work as a quantitative analyst.

posted by k8t at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2010

I have never been diagnosed with Discalculia, and had never heard of it before tonight. So the title of your post sent me clicking on Wikipedia, the current DSM definition (which apparently is in the process of being revised), and so forth. On the basis of what I read and, well, my entire life's history, I'd say I suffer from it, too. Oh my.

On to your question: I took introductory logic to fulfill my one math requirement as a prerequisite for entering university. (I did not enter university through an ordinary process because I took Algebra I three times--and only barely passed it.) My logic class was a nightmare. I had no idea what was going on. I kept analogizing what I was seeing on the board to Algebra (all those X's and Y's), which did me no good whatsoever. I asked for extra help several times, but found none of it illuminating.

Other students took pity on me; the teacher was aghast. He finally passed me as a favor with a D-. That D- haunted my grade point average throughout the rest of university and, in fact, has had permanent effects, in that my overall GPA remains low enough from that that I would not impress any graduate school very quickly. This is despite the fact that I was otherwise an A-/B+ student, and was fluent in four languages, including English, once my university finally allowed me to matriculate ... D- and all.

Anyway, I heard afterward that there were two kinds of logic class: (1) the mathematical kind, which is what I ended up taking, and the more (2) linguistic kind, which is what I should have taken.

If I understand what the linguistic kind is properly, I have played with some of it when I studied classical rhetoric. Within that context, logic was one of the most intriguing and difficult courses of study I've ever made. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

So I would ask several dozen questions before you go forth.

It pisses me off now, and it pissed me off then that the university and the society at large insist on trying to pretend everybody be balanced. I'm not the least bit balanced. In math, and to some degree science, I'm subpar. Yet in English, languages, and the Arts in general I've always really excelled. Let the mathies follow in the footsteps of Einstein; while I meanwhile let Shakespeare take me where he may....

Anyway, I will now spend the rest of the evening wondering what, if anything, Discaluculia means for me. Hmmm.
posted by Violet Blue at 6:22 PM on November 23, 2010

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