Critical Thinking-A Lost Art?
While writing this, I am reminded of a cousin who a few years ago called me asking for an answer to one of those narrative algebra problems, you all remember these. She wanted to know of an internet site that could give an answer or a strong hint to help her properly identify the variables of the problem and solve. I told her that having the answer was not truly the answer; it is the journey from question to answer where the true learning was and that she was cheating herself by looking for this short cut. It is also a test of character. I was a substitute teacher in a Southern California county in 1980-1981. I recall working with 4th graders and arithmetic and was told as part of the lesson plan to give them each a calculator with which to answer the questions put to them. I could not believe it, the children were not being taught to mentally conceptualize quantity which is necessary in arithmetic and higher math. I believed that calculators should only be available at higher grade levels to students who knew how to derive the answers to math questions by hand if it were necessary. The calculator was an instrument of convenience. How easy is it to forget the ability to do arithmetic by hand? I tell my spouse that sometimes I like to do the arithmetic by hand as it is a skill that I would never want to admit that I have forgotten. Besides, the mental exercise helps to postpone Alzheimer’s and dementia. Try it; can you still do long division, subtraction and multiplication by hand? We live in a world of instant gratification, microwave ovens, calculators found in cereal boxes, remote controls for everything. We have to keep an eye on the ‘gadgets’ because while they are serving us they could be controlling us, as well.
If you cannot think about something and instead have someone always provide the answer then you are capable of being deceived by anyone at anytime. There are plenty of very clever people that have college credentials in how to move the sheep to market. Those that do not mean the vast majority of us well have become the masters of distraction. You will be entertained and you will be controlled. It is incremental, to the point that was once an outrage becomes more familiar and creates less of that response than it did before.
Here is an example, unlike my cousin; I like to work with numbers. Here is a number for you, 15,000,000,000,000, yes, 15 trillion. In dollars, that is the approximate amount of the debt ceiling that Congress is currently debating about. If one dollar represented one mile, I could get more than halfway to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our solar system. This star is approximate 4.5 light years (27 trillion miles) from earth and in terms of current propulsion technology would take thousands of years to reach. So who needs ‘warp drive’? My point is to show the immensity of the number and the magnitude of our budget crisis.
The both sides of the political divide recognizes that this is something we need to address immediately, Bill Clinton confirms this when he said the biggest mistake for the Democrats is to just dismiss the Ryan Plan without presenting a viable one of their own. I have a lot more confidence in Bill Clinton’s political instincts than I do about his ability to keep his trousers up. I pay these fellows in Congress almost $175,000 per year; I have the right to expect more from them than fighting on the playground like grade school boys. Both sides are going to have to compromise and refrain from making ideological score points with their respective cheering sections. This problem must be solved but I am not going to let the conservatives gut the entire New Deal program to accomplish it, based on its ideological principles.
So how does critical thinking come in? Critical thinking involves the desire to get to the truth, though the heavens may fall. It requires that research is done from alternate perspectives of an issue. Intellectual dishonesty comes from not accepting any information from the other side of a debate just because it is the other side. I can not come to intelligent conclusions about anything unless I truly willing to look at the other side to determine if there is merit in their argument and why they take their position. Being lauded by my own cheering section is always gratifying, but in seeking the truth it is not enough. With conversations I have had with my conservative counterparts and friends, I find that we ultimately have in common a goal for a better life for our fellow citizens. People that I hold in derision are those that do the equivalent of throwing a Molotov cocktail into a crowded theatre, the goal is not discourse but to shock and induce people to panic. So you figuratively run out of the theatre to save your life, leaving all your possessions and wits along side the popcorn in your haste. You are encouraged to react, not think.
So when the rightwing refer to President Obama as a Marxist are they aware of the definition of a Marxist?
Marxism is defined as:
The political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in which the concept of class struggle plays a central role in understanding society's allegedly inevitable development from bourgeois oppression under capitalism to a socialist and ultimately classless society.
I think that that is inaccurate and if it were true, according to conservatives who throw this firebomb, then every President since Franklin Roosevelt has been a Marxist or Marxist collaborator. When we use this term, it harkens back to the days of Joe McCarthy of “better dead than red”. Many of us are not interested in reverting back to the days of J.P. Morgan and the raw form of capitalism associated with the American economy during his lifetime. Capitalism in the form it existed in then was simply not sustainable and certainly would not work now as the world around has experienced a sea change. So, now we need answers, not nostalgia. So, because we, progressives, are not interested in turn of the 20th century forms of capitalism, does that make us all Marxist? All of this name calling encourages an emotional reaction, much like shouting. I am guilty of it too; I have more than once called a right-winger a fascist, out of frustration on the MSNBC message boards where coarser verbal brawling is customary. Hurtful words always have the same effect.
Neither side is going to get its way 100%, that is a given in our political environment. Compromise is mandatory, so let’s fix our problem and light this candle!