How to think, not what to think

Hera are a couple more bookmarks from Thomas Sowell’s Dismantling America.  First, Sowell suggests a response to folks who seem to believe they have a firm grasp of an issue (p.199):

Another approach might be to respond to the dogmatic certainty of some young person, perhaps your own offspring, by asking, “Have you ever read a single book on the other side of that issue?”

When the inevitable answer to your question is “No,” you can simply point out how illogical it is to be so certain about anything when you have heard only one side of the story–no matter how often you have heard that one side repeated.

Would it make sense for a jury to reach a verdict after having heard only the prosecution’s case, or only the defense attorney’s case, but not both?

It would also be useful to be ready to recommend good books on the other side of the issue if they happen to want to take your advice.

Here’s another good one (p. 235):

It was once the proud declaration of many educators that “We are here to teach you how to think, now what to think.”  But far too many of our teachers and professors today are teaching their students what to think, about everything from global warming to the new trinity of “race, class and gender.”

Even if all the conclusions with which they indoctrinate their students were 100 percent correct, that would still not be equipping students with the mental skills to weigh opposing views for themselves, in order to be prepared for new and unforeseeable issues that will arise over their lifetimes, after they leave the schools and colleges.

Many of today’s “educators” not only supply students with the conclusions, they promote the idea that students should spring into action because of these prepackaged conclusions–in other words, vent their feelings and go galloping off on crusades, without either a knowledge of what is said by those on the other side or the intellectual discipline to know how to analyze opposing arguments.

A philosopher once said that the most important knowledge is knowledge of one’s own ignorance.  That is the knowledge that too many of our schools and colleges are failing to teach our young people.

I remember such activist assignments. It would have been helpful to have spent more time reviewing how we went about researching,  reasoning, editing and testing out our logic with others to gain practice on developing well-thought and articulated arguments rather than sending incoherent rantings.

I also remember some good assignments that did just that.

A business econ professor in grad school once gave an interesting assignment for the first day of class. He told us to prepare a 3 minute speech stating our position and rationale for our position regarding a specific hot topic (that he specified)  in news at the time.

We each got a chance to make our case and listen to each other.  The next week he gave us our grades and feedback.

Few people scored well. Most hadn’t researched or prepared.  They spoke from their emotions and repeated talking points from the media.  Most cases didn’t contain an ounce of logic and many had fallacies. The professor stepped through how he researched his position and bolstered it with logic and data.

My classmates were mad.  I think they were used to BS’ing their way through such assignments by repeating the politically correct, mainstream talking points.

While there was no right or wrong in regards to which position we took, there was in how well we constructed our arguments.

I still think of this as one of the most memorable and helpful assignments from my academic career.   And the fact that so few graduate level students, many with several years of work experience, didn’t do well helps corroborate what Sowell writes above.

My classmates continued to struggle through this gentleman’s course.  Some quit.  I enjoyed it and couldn’t figure out why so many people didn’t.  Now I think I know.  He was teaching us how to think, not what to think.  I don’t think my classmates were accustomed to that.

2 thoughts on “How to think, not what to think

  1. Pingback: How to think Part II « Our Dinner Table

  2. Pingback: Sounding Off | Our Dinner Table


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