Clear & Present ...Critical Thinking
“In politics stupidity is not a handicap” – Napoleon
Monday was laundry day. At the start of every new week, you did your washing and ironing. That’s the way it was. On a bright and sunny day, if your clothes were not hanging by clothespins outside, a neighbor would likely call over and see if you were ill. After all, it’s Monday and that is what you did. Good, bad or indifferent we loved our habits. It was a simpler time and those days are gone. My early childhood, spent growing up in Pittsburgh during the 1960’s was not Leave it to Beaver the iconic T.V. show but on the other hand it certainly wasn’t Pimp My Ride. The world has changed. Times are radically different but are we? Or, do most of us, as Henry David Thoreau once said “lead lives of quiet desperation”? Is it our conditioned fate to drone on with personal rituals and our own “virtual” laundry days without ever questioning why?
Jaywalking Through Life
Any fan of late night television will recognize the Tonight Show and a segment entitled Jaywalking with Jay Leno. It is an uneasy humor which hits the viewer as contestants attempt to answer simple questions and fail in the most amazing ways. The segment often resembles a train crash – you want to turn away – it is simply impossible not to watch. Maybe we aren’t smarter than a fifth grader. Nothing in pop culture points to the failure of our educational system better than this simple comedy skit. Individuals who otherwise appear intelligent, frequently educators themselves, fail to summon up fundamental knowledge that should have been obtained through rote learning long ago. Is this lack of awareness some sort of deep social psychological conditioning? Perhaps we are bombarded with so much information on a daily basis that we have become the opposite of Pavlov’s dog and prefer not to respond at all. No matter the reason for its existence, this collective lack of thought we are so willing to repetitively demonstrate throughout our lives surely creates opportunities for those who are willing to manipulate it.
Every single day, public relations firms, governments and special interest groups pound away at us through the media. Content that was once considered editorial is now frequently advertorial. Reported news is opinion. You cannot avoid it. Virtually everything that is printed, photographed or video taped can be manipulated to influence decisions. Therefore, we have a choice to make. We can decide to passively accept what is fed through these outlets as fact or understand that yellow journalism exists and question the validity of everything presented to us. In ancient Latin there is a phrase “Qui tacet consentit” which means “silence implies consent”. Jaywalk though this valley at your own peril.
Critical thinking is the ability to steer clear of quick judgment and question what is presented as factual. It is not a step by step process that can be memorized but rather a skill that is honed with time and use. This invaluable discipline can function in every aspect of life to solve problems and make quality choices. American academic great, William Graham Sumner, thought that “men educated in it (critical thinking) cannot be stampeded by stump orators.” Advocates of critical thinking have frequently stated that “education should teach how to think and not what to think.” It might be time to for us to expand that argument to include the instruction to think.
At the time of this writing the United States is on the verge of getting involved in a third war, the Middle East is in political transition, the economic and environmental consequences of the tragedy in Japan is yet to be understood and all of this is on the heels of barely avoiding a total global economic meltdown. Perhaps within this environment, our application of critical thinking is analogous to being good citizens. It just might be the most worthy goal that any of us can employ.
- Leave it to Beaver
- Pimp My Ride
- Henry David Thoreau
- Jaywalking with Jay Leno