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Ivan/critical reason
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2008 - 12:49 pm:   

Teaching Critical Thinking: Is the US school system failing its students?

200px-Dead_poets_society.jpg (interactive)
"Oh Captain, my Captain!" carpe diem

Young minds need to know, which is what teachers do to help them know, and how that knowledge is transferred to them from its accumulation of the ages is what defines whether or not it will be a good education. An important part of that transfer of mind is critical reason, which is that which enables a mind to know truth from falsehood, both in a practical way so that anticipated results are true, but also in a psychological and spiritual way, so that a person's moral compass of life is not tilted off our natural humanity. For a school system's education to be worthy of this immense responsibility to endow the young mind with a self worth and dignity, it must also provide that compass of reason to help it better evaluate what is the truth, per his or her personal moral compass. This is not to make men and women 'virtuous' as imposed by some standard of society or religion, but rather to endow them with the ability and desire to find that virtue in themselves naturally. And that is enlightenment.

In the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching article, "Critical Thinking, Enlightenment, and Pedagogy", it says:


Now held in the highest estimation by all disciplines, critical thinking has surpassed even truth as the premier objective. Whereas professors once aspired to fill the empty vessels sitting in their lecture halls with timeless and universal knowledge, many of us no longer even attempt to teach our students truth. When all particular truths become untrustworthy, our intellectual faith migrates to more fundamental cognitive bedrock, namely, reason itself, and as teachers we come to believe that students will receive greater benefits from developing and exercising their own muscles of reason than by memorizing the feats of history's biggest brains. What might explain this reversal of pedagogical priorities?

So the word "truth" can be a loaded word, one not to be trusted at face value, if the instruction of truth leans towards something loaded with agenda, such as happens with propaganda or political and religious indoctrination, where the 'truth' is not what it seems. Therefore, the use of reason to cut through what may be true, or just a parody of truth, is what the process of reasoning, or critical thinking, is about. To know right from wrong, or truth from falsehood, is more complex than merely being taught the 'truth', since that may be tainted by bias and informational 'propaganda', if fiction is to be separated from fact, which is the truth.

In "The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking", as a filter against pseudo-truths in popular media and education, the author states reasonably:


Rather than talk about any one specific phenomenon, I want to talk in general terms about the importance of teaching critical thinking to young people, and how and why it can and should be done better. A skeptical approach to life leads to advances in all areas of the human condition; while a willingness to accept that which does not fit into the laws of our world represents a departure from the search for knowledge. ...

If memory serves, the bulk of the class involved reading and studying Plato's Socratic dialogues. If you read them as a teenager, you may recall your reaction was to find them pretty darn dry. They were dialogues between Socrates and other people about such riveting subjects as ancient politics, philosophy, and even mathematics. I don't mean to criticize Socrates; it's just that studying the man and his 2,400-year-old writings is about the least interesting and relevant way for a modern young person to get excited about what Socrates was communicating. Nobody I knew who walked out of that class ever remembered a single concept, or applied it to their life. You can disagree with me and say that you find the Socratic dialogues to be brilliant and fascinating. My point is that the average teenager does not.
But the concepts Socrates introduced, such as the Socratic questions, are brilliant and fascinating when we apply them to things that interest us. More significantly, they become relevant. Take a few Socratic questions:

  • What is the source of your information?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • Is a different conclusion more consistent with the data?
  • What is an alternate explanation for this phenomenon?

What if we encouraged young people to ask these questions not of early Greek politics, but of the issues they're hit in the face with every day? Global warming. Television psychics. Alternative medicine. New Age religions. Popular assumptions about alternative fuels. Alternative foods. Alleged correlations between Xbox violence and actual violence. Magnet therapy. Isn't it more useful to encourage better ways to think about the subjects that people are already thinking about?

To separate fact from fiction is what critical reason is required to do, and teaching young minds critical thinking in history, from the dialogues of Socrates to the critiques of Kant, is not to know everything that is current in science and social theory; that current level of knowledge is easily available in today's multimedia world; but it is to create a pattern of thinking that makes learning with an open mind desirable, to empower oneself with the truth as we personally and critically perceive it. As individual human beings empowered with a mind, and self esteem with dignity, that is what our freedoms demand of us: that we can perceive critically what is true. And with that tool of reason, we can then seek knowledge in a real sense. That is what education should be teaching our young, not just to socialize them into being good members of society, to accept what they are being told, but to actually teach them to know critically what is the truth.

So our educational system must reach for more than merely developmental skills of reading, speaking, science, arithmetic, and history, combined with the arts and sports; these are all exceptionally important for a young person's development of knowledge and self worth. But teach critical reading, through literature that has stood the test of time, what is often called the Classics, or genius of Shakespeare, or contemporary theater and opera, all those things we once endured in class but in the end found unfathomably beautiful with maturity, what made us in the end to think; that is the classical education that must not only be preserved but better fine tuned. In an age where 'multiculturalism' is a desired, and perhaps necessary, approach to socializing our young into the mainstream of our modern societies, to 'care for the other' who is different from oneself, it will require a stronger inner sense of Who it is we are individually, and that is not achieved by merely telling the kids they are good kids. It will require another level of intellect added to what had been done over the past decades, where in addition to learning facts and socializing norms, how to 'fit in' with one's peers and society in general, there must also be a higher level of achievement desired, something that transcends the educational mean of "no one left behind" with a pass. Every student should be encouraged to look deeper into the truths written long ago, as well as to find the truths given today, with a critical reading of those truths to separate fact from fiction, or reality from myth, at every level whether human or divine. There are universal truths that only critical thinking can reveal, based on principles and concepts developed over the centuries, information that is transferred to young minds by relevant teachers who understand and appreciate such truths. Self-deception, both individually and socially, just to 'fit in' is not good enough in a free society. Indoctrination is actually harmful to our political and economic well being, and to the self worth of individuals. To be a productive free world, we must free the mind from demeaning 'sociocentric' or 'egocentric' ideas that narrow the mind, but must find ways to broaden young minds into their full potential as mindful individuals, as enlightened human beings.

My own educational development (I came from France to America in 1958, as a ten year old boy enrolled in New York City public school system) was elevated by very fine teachers, all the way from grade school to high school, and college, for which I am most grateful. Formative readings of Dickens and other classics, combined with discussions and readings in the Transcendetalists like Emerson and Thoreau, made me more conscious of my potential self worth, as reaching for something greater than myself. It finds echoes in my thinking when Emerson wrote:


"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul."

Same as I found echoes in Thoreau's "Walden":


"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done."

It imparted a certain Spartan-like appreciation for the world, such as eventually found its way into Habeas Mentem written years later. We are all connected, both physically and psychically, down to every smallest particle in ourselves with a much larger universe, one that endows us with life and consciousness. These ideas of an interconnected 'identity' were also echoed in Ayn Rand's Objectivisim in her Axioms:


"Ayn Rand's philosophy is based on three axioms: the Axiom of Existence, the Law of Identity, and the Axiom of Consciousness. Rand defined an axiom as "a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not."

So an objective approach to reality, and a subjective understanding of my own consciousness, became my modus operandi for how I related to the world. But this did not come out of a vacuum, but rather I am eternally grateful to my fine teachers who imparted their knowledge, but more importantly the ability to think, into my then young mind. It is what I am today, and for that better or worse, I am grateful to them.

In our modern world today, where the value of the individual as a free human being is greater than merely what is authorized by some socio-economic definition of man, where we are each of us authors of our own truths, critical thinking is the primary tool we have to achieve our individual self worth in society. As Emmanuel Kant wrote in "What is Enlightenment?":


"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!"

This was the theme of that lovely film with heart, "Dead Poets Society", where Robin Williams, as English literature teacher John Keating, tells the boys to tear out the introduction to a pedantic thesis on poetry, where the 'authority' defines it by the numbers, and urges them to find the beauty of poetry for themselves: his inspirational carpe diem! We must all ourselves "seize the day" for ourselves in our inner knowledge, because only there is where that knowledge really counts. What pedagogical system of education can do this? What teacher can raise their students to such heights? Forty years ago we did not have personal computers or the internet, so today's children are potentially more precautious with knowledge, than we who were lugging an armful of books from the library. We have the tools to do more and be more, and it is for teachers and the schools to encourage us to reach for more. Technologically we are already well advanced, but in our social sciences, and interpersonal interactions, something in our life's compass is broken, and we need to teach our young again to think. Teachers who can do this, in my mind, are truly beautiful. Carpe diem!

Oh Captain, my Captain, Sapere aude!

Also see: When things cancel out

Teaching how to think

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not dumb
Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 09:15 am:   

America's children are dumbed down?

"America's failing public school system" by Ashley Anderson, 16

This young lady has a mind, and she will not be thrown out with the bath water. Her writing is fresh and direct, she's been there.

"They were treating me like just another "product" of the education system, just another number. They want worker bees. Push a button. Pull a lever. Get just enough 'education' to learn how to be compliant, happy little 21st Century workers who don't ask any questions and keep their noses to the grindstone. I thought, "surely, not my school". I was wrong.
"Grading on a curve is commonplace in public schools, so the students don't know if they're doing anything wrong. I had the same geometry teacher my older brother had when he was at that age. Mr. Smith we'll say, actually told the class: "Some of you need to miss a few questions for the team…' He was meaning of course that it would make the top grade of the 'curve' look better.
"Most kids in public schools are uncontrollable. How can any learning actually take place? Respect for authority, integrity, and honor are not virtues generally practiced by students who attend public school. If the administrators were to enforce the rules they have, they wouldn't need to make more. Total control is the only thing gained when making more rules than needed, or altering the students individually.
"I was amazed at how well-behaved the students at my private school were. Not only did they work hard, but were courteous, polite, and obedient. These things are a direct result of the proper atmosphere that a private school provides. Christian values are taught, along with studying the Bible, which, needless to say, is strictly taboo in a public school."

Read it all.
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Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 10:51 pm:   

I think the point Ivan is trying to make is that there is not enough value placed upon critical thinking skill sets. So too the young lady from the article above has discovered a truth our society cannot escape; our public education system is not designed to produce enlightened beings. As I have stated before, our economy would collapse under those circumstances, as no individuals who are highly educated would volunteer to do the menial labor that must be done by the "undereducated".

Parents who pay for private school, are more than likely to have the means to make sure their children had a wide range of early life experiences (a factor that is greatly correlated with educational success). Furthermore, those same parents will be more interested in the finished product their children will become because money is involved, and they themselves have already found success. For the few individuals who are in private school but may not have the same financial means, the opportunity to be in private school (however it was attained) is motivation enough to make them conform, in terms of social and educational habits, to the standards of the other students. With that said, let's examine why critical thinking is not a priority in our society.

I can assure you, public educators are instructed in a variety of methods to activate their students' higher order thinking processes. But does a child who cares little about his/her own educational prowess (or worse still one who knows they are deficient), care about the lessons placed before them? Can they consistently be focused to succeed? Not in a system that throws 40 students in a class, and 15-20 fall into the categories previously mentioned. Furthermore these children are taught to value an entirely different skill set, and I bet you they can think very critically within their particular field of interest. In essense it is not the critical thinking process that is lacking, but the direction for the process to be pointed in.

Beyond all of that, however, I challenge anyone to find anytime in history when there wasn't a distribution (whatever the shape of the curve) of enlightened to common members of society. Some people are alphas, some are not. We would not survive otherwise. This how it has always been.

Thus our goal should be to identify those individuals who have the desire to be successful, to think critically, to be that ball player, etc. and foster their strengths. In a sense our system is exactly that. Some go to college, some don't even try. The hoops we must jump through eliminate those who are not motivated enough to avoid their menial fate. The only ones we should cry for, are the ones who really want more, but get stuck with that teacher who can't give it, or those unfortunate individuals who do not know how to find it for themselves. The conundrum is . . . is our problem a function of society's failing, the educational system, or just the natural order of things?

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Ivan/play reason
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2008 - 02:20 pm:   

Naive: "I think the point Ivan is trying to make is that there is not enough value placed upon critical thinking skill sets. So too the young lady from the article above has discovered a truth our society cannot escape; our public education system is not designed to produce enlightened beings."

But if we could somehow raise the odds, to encourage more 'enlightened beings'? But to produce them takes an enlightened education, which means teaching critical thinking to all students.

Same as in yours: "Beyond all of that, however, I challenge anyone to find anytime in history when there wasn't a distribution (whatever the shape of the curve) of enlightened to common members of society. Some people are alphas, some are not. We would not survive otherwise. This how it has always been."

Some societies, take Japan for example, will produce more 'alpha' types, while other societies, most of the Middle East for example, will produce less. The real crux of the matter is the educational system, and what does this system wish to produce in its young minds. Will they be dumb consumers, or enlightened producers? The 'natural order' will gravitate towards the better producers, which in my opinion means better educated and enlightened, while the less developed will always look on with envy, and plot to somehow undo their success. Many of the world's conflict probably have roots in this social dichotomy, but in human societies it is not always the most fierce who win. The ones who come out in front are the smarter ones, which is why we have evolution of mind, through progress is surely uneven.

Play as a form of 'reason'?

This is one more aspect of critical thinking, that we allow ourselves a certain sense of 'play' in our reasonableness. Perhaps this was the subconscious reason I chose "Dead Poets Society" as an illustration above, that it allows for a certain amount of creativity within critical thinking, that which separates the 'drones' of reason from those who can take it to the next level. Perhaps also this is what 'alpha' means, per the above, that rather than merely consumer drones, which also play on a consumer level, the higher reason plays on a more artistic level, where creativity is valued above mere amusement. It does not mean we abandon our sense of reason, nor critical evaluation, since critical choices are made by those, but it does allow for a sense of the absurd, where we might challenge ourselves with something that is not reasonable, more intuitive, but which in the end adds value to our sense of personal satisfaction, and being. In effect, play is an 'open ended' form of reason, where its critical aspects are suspended temporarily to entertain what may otherwise be absurd ideas. The real challenge to reason is to allow for play to exist and yield a still better form of reason. It's called creativity, and in some it rises to genius, but until its choice of reason is once again applied to test it, it is more fun fiction than real. Play is to employ the 'unreasonable' into the realm of reason, even humor, but now with a purpose beyond its mere amusement, but to create something that did not exist before. It's also called exploring new realms of mind, or a process of discovery. And that is reasonable! :-)

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Posted on Friday, August 29, 2008 - 10:03 am:   

Einstein was to have said "God does not play dice." But is this really true?

Perhaps God does play dice, and the whole universe is alive with play as much as reason, on some infinite scale. Perhaps we are God's play of dice? And our creativity is our play in turn?

:-) Ivan
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Posted From:
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2008 - 10:52 pm:   

Freedom of Speech applies to Muslims too, uncensored, as it should be.


Only violence is forbidden in Freedom of Speech. Why is this even being debated in the 21st century? Didn't we leave this issue behind more than a century ago? When is enforced silence ever productive? Religious freedoms had been with us for over two hundred years. Why now, all of a sudden it is an issue again? How can we possibly think clearly, or reason correctly, if we are forbidden? It makes no sense in our modern world. Leave the ancient superstitions where they belong, in the distant past. Freedom of speech is universally extended to everyone, including Muslims.

This is big, 'Muslim free speech 'threatened', BBC News. Bravo for saying so.


The centre said they had suffered violence and intimidation for criticising Islam or seeking reform.
It said governments had a duty to ensure free speech for all citizens.
The report - Victims of Intimidation: Freedom of Speech within Europe's Muslim Communities - said official failure to offer victims the protection they needed had left "significant numbers" of Muslims unable to express themselves.
The centre called for European governments to "promote greater religious and social harmony by demonstrating that they see Muslims and those of Muslim background as complete citizens, neither restricted in their freedoms nor unduly permitted to issue threats against others".

Every human being of the planet has a right to speak freely their thoughts, as long as they are not invoking violence or injury to others, which is a basic fundamental human right. Muslims are not excluded from this. Freedom of inquiry, of information, and of ideas is fundamental to our communal growth as a global humanity. No one has the right to take this away from us. Censorship is not a fundamental human right, nor are threats of violence against those who speak their minds. Freedom of expression is necessary for a free humanity. In fact, this 'freedom of speech' is not even an issue. It is existent universally for all humanity. No fatwas, no intimidations, have a right to threaten us for what we think or believe, or say. Those who do are acting in a criminal way with violence against our freedom of conscience. Religion is no excuse to intimidate us, including Muslims who seek to break out of the mold of Jihad. As free human beings, they have the right to seek reforms, and speak out. Under our modern laws of civilization, they are free.


[Please note this above is a follow up to Is Freedom of Speech and Democracy compatible with Sharia? dated Aug. 13, 2008.]
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Teaching thinking?
Posted on Sunday, December 07, 2008 - 01:53 pm:   

Is this teaching critical thinking?

The gospel truth?


"BUT ACCORDING to the New Historians, there is no evidence that the Koran was compiled by Muhammad or canonized under Uthman; in fact, there is no proof it existed in any form before the end of the seventh century, and the first signs of a standardized codex date from the early 800s, 150 years after Uthman's death. In his 1977 survey Qur'anic Studies, the late professor of Semitic studies at SOAS, John Wansbrough, applied to the Koran "the instruments and techniques of biblical criticism" developed in the 19th century by German biblical scholars such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and Julius Wellhausen - i.e., treating it as a literary construct and comparing it to contemporary devotional works."

Someday ernest scholars will clarify the truth about this religion (of peace) with the same rigorous scholarship afforded all other biblical studies. Read it all.

Also see: The Lost Archive. Very interesting!
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Peace in the world?
Posted on Monday, February 23, 2009 - 01:40 pm:   

Choice tidbits from the 'Book of Peace'

9:5, 9:28, 4:46, 4:34, 4:89, 33:61, 48:20,etc.
Viz. (33:61) "Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter."

How to find peace in this world? Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it. Read it all.

Or consider these: Salute to Champions of Liberty

47.4 “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah, - He will never let their deeds be lost.”

Also see: Conflating History with Theology: Judeo-Christian violence vs. Islamic violence by Raymond Ibrahim

(Editor's note: this post was moved from PostScripts page, additional links added.)

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