Critical Thinking? Not So Much

My daughter and I had an interesting conversation over the weekend.  Somehow, the topic of gay marriage came up.  She started citing polls that “show most people are in favor of gay marriage.”

(NOTE:  I do not care to hear about your position on this, dear reader.  Gay marriage is just a “McGuffin”.  Stay with me.)

I told her those polls are wrong.  I don’t need to see the methodology behind the poll, I don’t need to know who commissioned the poll, if it says that a majority of the general population favors gay marriage, the poll is wrong.  Then I asked her why I’m so certain of this.

She started saying that I’ve been listening to propaganda, or the religious right, or any of the left-wing bugaboos about this topic.  I again asked how I know the polls are wrong, without looking at them.  She finally said she didn’t know.

I told her that every time the question went to the voters, it was soundly defeated.  Even in California.  Those polls have to be flawed; they don’t reflect observed reality.

Now, schools nowadays claim to teach “critical thinking skills”.  They do this instead of teaching what used to be called “facts” and “knowledge”.  Indeed, many “educators” say that teaching facts gets in the way of imparting these critical thinking skills (CTS for short).

Well, supposedly among these skills is “the ability to evaluate evidence through observation and place it in context.”  One would hope that on hearing a claim that obviously does not reflect observed reality, a student with CTS would conclude that the claim is false.  But that’s not what is happening, at least in my experience.  What should be an obvious conclusion was completely missed.

Why do the government schools claim that their goal is to impart critical thinking skills? Perhaps it’s because a measurement of a student’s CTS is by definition subjective and open to interpretation.  If you ask a 10th grader to name the two major alliances in WWI, and he tells you “The Central Powers and the Triple Entente”, it’s clear the teacher did her job.  CTS can’t be measured as easily, so there’s every opportunity to obfuscate and argue that the school really did its job.

But when a product of the system can’t tell when a press release doesn’t match reality, something has gone off the track.  The system failed at what IT claims as its basic mission.  And if we citizens don’t hold the schools accountable, we have failed as well.

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