Friday, December 01, 2006
Michael Rosen, writing in The Rocky Mountain News, discusses the latest concept to get completely mangled by our leftist education establishment: critical thinking.
Notably, he offers several examples of what public "educators" regard as classroom exercises in critical thinking. After citing some test answers graded as correct by a student whose ability to evaluate current events is the least of his worries (e.g., "Bushe cold have help the Katrina people whin it hapin."), Rosen cites the following.
In a freshmen geography class at East High School, students were instructed to "assume the personas of individuals in the next century or after, and write a letter to people in the 21st century, saying what they could and should have done to address global warming before its effects became so devastating." This is indoctrination. The question presumes an outcome that is debatable. Shouldn't a student have the option of questioning the premise? Isn't that a mainstay of critical thinking? How about writing a letter from the not-globally-warmed future thanking those in the early 21st century who had the foresight to resist unfounded claims of global-warming alarmists and avoid squandering trillions of dollars on a fool's errand? This is a possibility, too. How do you suppose that would be graded?Students, it would appear, will continue being told what to think, rather than being taught how to think.
"Critical thinking" is too often a catchall buzzword to justify blatant propagandizing and political activism. That was the lame excuse Overland High School teacher Jay Bennish used to shield himself from accountability when he abused his students with a political tirade denouncing capitalism and comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. [bold added]
Setting aside the many other problems made obvious by our Bushe-hating scholar above, it certainly looks like the real purpose of the mavens of "critical thinking" is only to make students question any implicit assumptions they may have formed about the superiority of Western civilization and the advantages of maintaining it just long enough to allow them to dump the slush of political correctness into their skulls.
And this leads to the one criticism I have of Rosen's otherwise very good article. He does not go for the jugular, instead implying that leftists agree with the rest of us on what should constitute "critical thinking" when they are in fact also wrong there.
This is one of the more popular, trendy concepts in public education circles these days. In theory, it sounds like a wonderful idea. Teachers should lead students to suspend their beliefs, biases, preconceptions and conventional wisdom in order to evaluate information, ideas, theories, statements, propositions, historical events, political movements, individuals, etc., on the basis of facts, evidence, logic and reason. Who could disagree with this approach?Many leftists would probably regard the belief in the validity of logic and sensory evidence as a "bias". Many would doubtless also question whether there is such a thing as a "fact" and whether reason is a valid means of grasping the truth, if they even accept the notion that truth exists. They are wrong on these counts, but in their error, they point out the real problem.
The concept of "critical thinking" is completely empty if it is being pushed by people who believe, as so many on the left do, that we can't actually think (i.e., use reason to uncover the truth). Whether there are facts, the senses are valid, and the mind can use logic to understand facts to reach the truth are all within the purview of that granddaddy of "critical thinking exercises", the discipline of philosophy. It is from philosophy that one learns of such things as the axioms one cannot simply classify as "biases" and toss out the window, of why the senses are valid, and of the rules of logic. It is in fact a rational philosophy, at least implicitly held, that allows us to engage in critical thinking at all, and it is such an outlook that the left is at war with.
Philosophy is certainly too abstract a subject to teach to children -- even those who can spell "Bush" -- but what it can and should be doing is providing the framework for how to teach children to reason from facts and logic in the first place. Such children would certainly be better-equipped than today's to be able to make the distinctions and integrations required to make rational judgements about all manner of things, of which the current preoccupations of the left are but a tiny subset. The real problem with the left's lip-service to critical thinking is that it is a lip-service to what should be the very foundation of the child's entire education! And it is being paid in order to disguise an attempt to undermine this foundation.
So Rosen is, if anything, being too kind to the education establishment. But in his defense, he closes with a little critical thinking exercise of his own:
I wonder if students are ever challenged with questions from the right, not just the left, such as:In doing so, Rosen shows the real beauty of critical thinking: Reason always eventually leads us to the correct answer which, in this case, is a question. He may not have gone down the avenue I would have liked him to, but the kinds of questions he asks will lead, sooner or later, to the right one: "Why do Americans not morally oppose a system that confiscates their money in the name of educating their children, but uses the funds to cripple their minds and entrench itself instead?"
I invite students, teachers and administrators to contact me with such classroom examples.
- Name fives ways teachers' unions might be obstacles to improving the quality of public education.
- Critique Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and theorize about what motivates American leftists who obsess about their country's shortcomings while downplaying its greatness.
- Explain why the ideology of socialism is in direct conflict with human nature and, consequently, perpetually doomed to failure.
- Read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and give five examples of violations of individual rights in the name of "the common good."
- The mainstream media largely ignore qualified global-warming skeptics. Name five scientists who dispute global-warming theory and explain their arguments.