CRITICAL THINKING: More critical than ever. So are teachers.

Posted in News Last updated on: Tuesday, 15 November 2016

It's 1:00 am, election night 2016.  Teachers, do you know where your critical thinking module is?

I hope so. I spent much of Eyes Wide Open showing readers how to detect disinformation. The central advice: evaluate the source. Are vested interests involved? Is the speaker qualified? Does the blog state where its data comes from? But this year's presidential race turned the rules of argument upside down. Suddenly, students and the public at large need to confront claims with a much more basic question: Is a source even given?

I was chuckling a year ago when I read about the plaque at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia commemorating the Civil War carnage near the 14th hole, where so many died that this stretch of the Potomac came to be known as "The River of Blood." But there's a problem. Historians have no evidence of any such carnage or nickname. Questioned on this, Mr. Trump could come up with no sources and yet he's stuck to his claim.

I'm no longer chuckling. The unsourced claims that followed carried much more import: that Mexican immigrants were largely rapists and criminals, that unvetted Syrian refugees were flooding the country, that Barack Obama founded ISIS, that the election process is rigged.

It's been a reenactment of "The Emperor's New Clothes," with a difference. When the press, like the child in the tale, pointed out that these arguments were naked of documentation, much of the public didn’t stop, gape, then laugh the charges out of court. They kept on cheering. Never has the need for critical thinking been shown more starkly.

"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet." --Abraham Lincoln.   Words to live by. No matter which medium, no matter the subject, let's teach our young to demand a reliable source for claims before granting assent.

The more political discourse is uncoupled from reality--and difference scorned, and violence praised--the more I realize how vital teachers are in this struggle.  Rationality, restraint, and empathy have always been a tough platform to run on.  Teachers stump for it every day.  They're true change-makers, molders of future electorates. I'd planned to teach high school history, and though that didn't come to pass, I've written many books for the teacher I might have become. That teacher could be you. Keep up the good work.