Affirming Number One

AlterNet has a look at one program one that receives the kind of vouchers that House Republicans would like to give religious schools, called Accelerated Christian Education. It’s the ideal kind of program for people who want to destroy critical thinking and actual learning, as the program largely consists of students sitting in cubicles filling out multiple-choice questions about cartoons.

Those words came from Don Progreba in a recent post, and have been rubbing my fur the wrong way since I read them.

I agree that Christian education is an exercise in thought control. I went through it, lived it, understand it … the Catholic branch anyway.

I once heard a priest, a bright one, give a very funny talk on “counting from one to ten, philosophically speaking.” I do not remember most of it, as philosophy does not register well with me, but I do remember his opening, that somehow he had to get from zero to one, and lacking any means decided on an existential approach: “Energetically AFFIRM the number one!”

The statement above from Pogie presupposes that critical thinking* is being taught in public schools. But let us consider just a few things that a critical thinker might do:

  • Weigh evidence. A critical thinker will objectively weigh the quality of evidence, placing the spoken word far down the list from actual deeds, and the impact of actions far above the stated intent of actions taken.
  • Avoid groupthink. A critical thinker does not get swept up in group movements where individual judgment is subservient to group masters.
  • Trust, but verify. Critical thinkers do not have trusted sources for whom they suspend requirements regarding evidence, nor do they avoid sources based on prejudicial stereotypes.
  • After eliminating all other possibilities… the one remaining, no matter how unlikely, must be the truth. Sometimes the world offers evidence, even proofs, that undermine our basic premises and ideals. Critical thinkers adapt to reality, rather than ignore it.

OK now, we’ve all read Pogie over the years. Does he exhibit any signs of being a critical thinker?

Can we then conclude that that his students are learning from him the necessary skills? It could be that the excellent dance teacher is a lousy dancer, so it is possible. So maybe yes, even though he does not practice the discipline, he teaches it well. So I look for evidence. It is sketchy. I know only one of his former students, Polish Wolf. I am not seeing it.

Of course, it is not just Pogie. Nationally the products of all of our schools, save perhaps the Phillips Exeter’s and maybe a Jesuit academy here and there, jump bare-assed into the school of life barely prepared to face the corporate marketers, military recruiters, political hucksters and media and entertainment propagandists. They plunge deep into inescapable debt for sake of yet bigger doses of a drug that has already made them so intellectually drowsy.

Schools are failing us all around, in every imaginable way. They are producing automatons, soldiers, middle managers, scriveners, football fans, shoppers. Given the abundant contrary evidence, Pogie in his post does what all existentialists do – he AFFIRMS his rightness and walks away.
*Anyone interested can find a lengthy summary of the notion of critical thought at this Wikipedia entry. God knows we all need regular reminders, and even though Wiki should always be taken his a healthy dose of skepticism, it does a good job.

About Mark Tokarski

Just a man who likes to read, argue, and occasionally be surprised.
This entry was posted in Depth and scholarship, Education. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Affirming Number One

  1. steve kelly says:

    Groupthink makes any fair hearing of dissenting views an impossibility. Defense of the group takes over. “The other” must be marginalized, banned, or killed in the extreme. LIfe in a box creates dull people.


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