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Getting the “critical” part but missing the thinking

Submitted by on Wednesday, 11 February 2009 2 Comments

A high school senior in Florida is suspended for three days after creating a Facebook group for the sole purpose of bashing her English teacher. She’s suing to have the suspension removed from her record, saying it could hurt her chances at jobs or graduate school.

A congressman responds to an inquiry about broadband access and the provider duopoly with an email full of partisan criticism and glittering generalities about the stimulus bill.

A grade school principal in Minnesota is suspended after he forces a first-grader to clean a toilet with his hands.

Three people, three different walks of life, similar shortfalls in critical thinking.

It’s a problem that pervades our society, one that no doubt drives high school algebra teachers up the wall. In those classes, you see, getting the right answer is only half the battle. The other half is being able to show the process you used to arrive there.

The Florida teen used no process, merely creating a space where others could rant about a teacher.

“To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred,” Katherine Evans wrote.

So you don’t like your teacher. Fair enough. But how about providing some details about those “insane” antics? Maybe others will agree with you and officials will do something. Or maybe peers will commiserate and offer advice based on what they did in similar situations.

Isn’t that more productive than just spewing hatred? Ay, but venom is easy. Solutions require a bit more work.

By the same token, instead of vaguely touting “immediate tax relief for working families, aid to small businesses who are quickly finding themselves unable to fund their daily operations” as part of Republican alternatives to the Democratic-sponsored stimulus, the congressman could have offered details about how those plans would work.

Have we reached the point in this country where substantive policy discussion is impossible? Or is it that politicians automatically assume we’re either not interested or not capable of following?

The Minnesota principal had no discussion at all, instead charging into the classroom after a teacher summoned him – why she didn’t instead call the custodian is unclear – and ordering the boy to unclog a toilet with his bare hands after the 6-year-old used paper towels instead of toilet paper.

The youngster’s not likely to experience that particular lapse in critical thinking again.

The principal’s defense, according to the boy’s father: He hadn’t known the boy had used the toilet before clogging it. As if having the boy unclog an unsoiled toilet would have justified the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach.

Spewing instead of making a logical case. Dodging the question with generalities that  sound good but offer nothing of substantive. Rushing to judgment instead of seeking facts.

We all do it daily, sometimes for good reasons. It would be impossible to even make it through breakfast if we paused to deeply ponder every decision.

There comes a time, though, when emotional decisions, partisan cliches and instant condemnation aren’t sufficient.

For us as a country, that time is now.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • EricW said:

    Quite the blog. I happen to know a parent at the school in Minnesota where the once incident took place, and other news articles have been published since you posted this. If only you had the “critical thinking” needed to realize that the story you read was created from one biased, second-hand source. I love how you say the principal “stormed in” as if you have any idea what took place. Furthermore, if it were simply an issue of a mess, why was the janitor not have been called in the first place? Critical thinking would have led to that question.

    But seriously, nice blog. You fail to do what you preach, even WHILE you’re preaching it.

  • Debra said:

    Eric, if you’ll notice, I did ask that question in the original post: “why she didn’t instead call the custodian is unclear.” I’m sorry you missed it.

    As far as the original story being biased and second-hand, well, according to the follow-ups I’m finding the principal is disciplined and possibly facing dismissal, so it’s sounding like I’m not the only person who thinks something is a little off in this situation. According to another follow-up in the Star-Tribune, the principal’s attorney says the toilet contained only paper towels and water, which is his justification for the action. As a parent, that still wouldn’t be enough justification for a school administrator making my child stick his hands in a toilet.

    As an aside, I don’t think one incident of this nature should be enough to justify dismissal. If that’s being discussed, and his lawyer says it is, critical thinking skills make me wonder what else might be going on in the background.

    And while “knowing a parent at the school” certainly might provide you with additional information, those details are going to be second-hand at best, possibly further removed. One might even be tempted to call it gossip. I don’t understand how that’s superior to news stories sourced by board officials and lawyers.