Monday, April 16, 2018

An Apology to My Students

Dear students, 
I owe you all an apology. All these years I taught you that applying the principles of critical thinking would help you to construct sound and valid arguments and to identify arguments that meet or do not meet the criteria for soundness. I introduced you to certain habits of mind to help you articulate arguments both orally and in writing, to make judicious analysis, and to guide you towards conclusions based on thorough examination of gathered evidence, of context, of relationship among material, of relevant authorities, among other constructs. It seems that I had it all wrong and failed to adequately prepare you for the culture of logic operative today. I ask you to ignore everything I taught you, to throw out all the notes you made, and to prepare yourself for a revaluation of thinking.

Thankfully, you are not without important models or exemplars of this “new thinking”. Forget your teachers who taught you that outmoded, superannuated method of reasoning and inquiry. Socrates and Aristotle and others are now old news. Look no further than our leaders - our assemblymen and women, our mayors, our senators, our congressmen and women, our governors, our generals, our vice-president, our president - as the true guides to clear thinking, reasoning, and inquiry. And as you follow the examples of these pioneers of this new and nonpareil approach to thinking, here are a few essential principles to keep in mind. The others you will have to figure out for yourself.
  1. Arrive at and act upon conclusions before examining the evidence. You can always examine the evidence afterwards.
  2. If you are pressed for evidence, make the claim to be in possession of credible intelligence, and do not forget to say the intelligence is classified. Citizens will ready accept that response, for, after all, the Government and its intelligence agencies will never lie.
  3. You no longer have to have indubitable proof of an assertion; “highly likely” is now the new certainty. 
  4. Dance around the question. It is definitely okay to go off tangent and to never answer the question. No one will try to steer you back to the question anyway. Just look at our leaders debating each other or responding to questions at press briefings. Simply beautiful.
  5. Don’t even bother to question source if the idea or information comes from some well-known person or institution. If the New York Times publishes it, it must be true. If an expert or analyst says it, it must be true. No need to go fact checking for yourself; they know everything. Just accept. 
  6. Acceptance is the essence of the new thinking, not questioning, so, instead of “Questioning more”, the in-vogue catch phrase is, “Accept uncritically”.
  7. Forget inductive and deductive analyses. Simply state your conclusion based on your gut feeling.
  8. Lastly, the ad hominem response is the ace card. Use it. Our great models, our leaders, use it all the time.
  9. And oh...don’t forget the old adage, “Ignorance is bliss.” 
[photo art by Ric Couchman]