The Elephant in Our American Classrooms

The news often carries stories of aging school buildings, poorly maintained, particularly in the “rust belt”of our nation, or poor rural towns and  inner-city areas.  We also see many stories that compare our educational system to those of other nations, indicating that American students continue to rank far, far below the top performing nations.  These education comparisons typically are based on test scores for “reading, writing and arithmetic”, and other factors such as teacher/student ratios, et cetera.  This in itself is very sad, given the resources the United States has at its disposal.  However, there is another aspect of our educational system which, after observing particularly the last ten years of our political strife, leads me to one conclusion.

We just don’t see the elephant in our classrooms:  the absence of teaching students how to critically analyze subjects.  I contend that if our youth were taught, from their early years, right on through secondary curricula, and for those going on to four year colleges, there too, how to think (not what to think), then our political discourse actually would result in promoting our society at large, to the betterment of all, as opposed to what we see hour by hour in the news today.

Critical analysis requires working with facts – not alternative facts – validating “givens”, searching for the true themes, testing hypotheses, challenging the “story”, the logic of the story’s elements, and generally not just accepting, prima facie, any content we see in the media.  Of course, we could also extend this to discourse in general, whether conversation at the family breakfast table, or bullshitting at the bar during happy hour.

As I write this our nation is embroiled in what effectively is a civil war, a battle for the future of this country.  I give thanks every day that I live in this country, a nation of laws, at times irrational and unfounded on truth, but one that endures,  one that had a Civil War, and continues to evolve.  How this will play out, no one can know.  Personally I have faith, that the arc of moral justice is long, but sure, to paraphrase a famous quote.  But I do think we would be wise to wipe our eyes, and begin to see this elephant, in whatever color or colors we best see.  Unless we begin to teach our students the refined “art” of critical analysis, we will continue to be locked in a battle for generations to come, even though the stakes will change.  I suppose one could argue that the struggle makes us stronger – if it doesn’t kill this country completely.  However, I would rather advocate for minimizing the struggle, because it by in large is predicated on conflicting opinions, neither of which in any situation is grounded in reason, vis-a-vis critical analysis. While we are human and not Vulcan (a la Star Trek), when our arguments are mostly emotional, based on unfounded bias or predisposition, devoid of logic or fact, we collectively will progress slowly, at best.  The great mishap that we are allowing to ominously reach the precipice, that which could be the undoing of the civilization we “enjoy”, is due to our inability to critically analyze and fully appreciate its cause and its danger:  climate change.  So, the wages of non-critical thinking are dire indeed.