A Call for Fewer Calls for Critical Thinking
Henry DeGroot is probably about 18 years old. It shows.
Reportedly, the Newton high school student wrote what follows in a Chinese student’s notebook. In China.
“Democracy is for cool kids,” “It’s right to rebel,” and “Don’t believe the lies your school and government tell you”.
DeGroot would be just another American lecturing the world about its failure to be America, but he was in a study abroad program at the time. As the cheerleader who was kicked off her team for refusing to cheer for a student who assaulted her found out, students have severe restrictions on their rights while in school, including their speech rights.
“In her capacity as cheerleader, [she] served as a mouthpiece through which the school could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams. [Not cheering for Bolton] constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, [she] was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.”
As a student, you can call your principle a butt-head on
If you are going to be offended when immigrants come into your country and break your laws, you shouldn’t go to other countries and break their laws just because you think they are stupid.
If you are going to write on a student’s notebook notions that got hundreds or thousands of students in that country killed 25 years earlier, then you better not whine to the Boston Globe that since you didn’t get to go to your prom that you’re “missing a lifetime of memories.”
What bothers me the most about this story isn’t any of the above though. It’s the assumption by seemingly everyone that this story is about critical thinking in any way. Even the Superintendent seems to buy into this framing:
“We certainly want our students to be thoughtful and critical thinkers,” said Fleishman. “We encourage that, and we pride ourselves on giving students that opportunity.”
It is not critical thinking to say China should become democratic. That is a cached thought readily recalled by all. If you want to unite left and right, that is your starting point. If you think the idea represents critical thinking on the part of the person saying it, you are being silly.
What is critical thinking? Why do people so often call for it?
“…I hoped the kids would read it and think about why this foreigner was writing this,” he said. “And hopefully they would be critical, or at least think about how their school and government interacts with them.”
Critical thinking is something for other people to do until they finally realize that we are right. The problem is that other people feel the same way about us and want us to do the critical thinking to so that we agree with them.
Critical thinking is thus something that is always called for but rarely performed. The people who most bemoan the lack of critical thinking in others are those least likely to do it themselves.
Where there is disagreement, it is because others have not grappled with what we already know to be true. Why should we waste our time thinking critically about our own beliefs when others haven’t even bothered to agree with us yet?