Saturday, August 27, 2022


A extensive sampling of school district mission statements reveals that just about every American public school claims they nourish critical thinking. That's sheer humbug. The prime directive actually operative in every public school district is: Never challenge the cherished beliefs, or commitments, of significant elements of the local community. With more than 90% of our public schools controlled by locally elected boards, how could it be otherwise? What elected school board member is going to want students taught to think critically about anything a significant number of voters regard as sacrosanct? No board appointed school superintendent wants that either. The same applies to teachers who are capable of critical thought to begin with. 

Consider this example: Critical thinking necessarily includes close examination of religious truth claims. Yet that's clearly off-limits in any public school. Imagine, for instance, a teacher asking students to critically examine whether or not the existence of evil - particularly the physical suffering of innocents - can be reconciled with a deity believed to be omnipotentomniscient and omnibenevolent.. 

They might specifically be asked to consider, for instance, why an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God permits cancer to originate and metastasize in the brains of innocent children? Encouraging students to consider this "argument from evil" doubtless encourages critical thought. But any teacher, board member, or school superintendent, who encourages such an examination had better have alternative career options at the ready.

Here's one more example: Imagine asking high schoolers to critically examine use of the term, "fallen hero." They might be asked, for instance, were those military men and women killed in the second Iraq war really "fallen heroes?" Let's imagine a hypothetical lesson concerning this question. Say the students learn from examining news clips from that era that President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney and numerous other high ranking government officials assured Americans, indeed the whole world via the United Nations, that Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and also harbored al-Qaida terrorists. Then the students learn from subsequent clips that both claims were proven to be patently false. The students are then asked: "Were those killed in combat to eliminate these non-existent threats really "fallen heroes?" Why or why not?" 

Such a lesson requires serious critical thinking. But imagine the white hot reaction of arm-chair "patriots." Especially the ones who never put themselves at risk. They would be incensed! And, if they got wind of it, such a lesson would doubtless gain "fair and balanced" treatment on Fox News. That's when all the American flag lapel pin wearing Washington politicians would emerge from their congressional clown car, pretend outrage, and demand corrective action. Would teaching such a lesson work out well for the teacher involved? Do you doubt it involves critical thinking?

So you see, no locally elected board of education is going to countenance teaching students to think critically about ANY values or perspectives that are uncritically cherished by significant elements of the local community. No superintendent who values their job will either. So forget those thousands upon thousands of school district mission statements claiming that they foster critical thinking. No, they don't; and no they won't! At least not about anything that really matters. And that, my friend, is that.

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