April 13th, 2013

How do you teach critical thinking?

“Teaching critical thinking” can sometimes be a cover for “teaching kids to question traditional values, and to accept our point of view instead” (i.e. leftism). But there’s no question that if it is used to refer to helping students get the skills to evaluate the veracity and logic of what they read, it is both sorely needed and sorely lacking these days.

Of course, to teach critical thinking a teacher has to exhibit at least a modicum of it, and preferably more. Sadly, that’s not something that can be said for a lot of teachers. And what of this particular teacher?:

…]T]his week, students at Albany High School were given an alarming thought puzzle: How do I convince my teacher that I think Jews are evil?

That question was posed to about 75 students on Monday by an unidentified 10th-grade English teacher as a “persuasive writing” exercise. The students were instructed to imagine that their teacher was a Nazi and to construct an argument that Jews were “the source of our problems” using historical propaganda and, of course, a traditional high school essay structure.

“Your essay must be five paragraphs long, with an introduction, three body paragraphs containing your strongest arguments, and a conclusion,” the assignment read. “You do not have a choice in your position: you must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”

School administrators have apologized, and the teacher will be subject to some sort of as-yet-undecided disciplinary action. No one is suggesting this teacher actually was trying to teach anti-Semitism or to indoctrinate his/her students in it. The assignment was part of a unit on the Holocaust, and the goal (supposedly) was to teach how hate propaganda works, and how susceptible people are to it.

But an assignment to write propaganda certainly doesn’t seem like a good way to do this, especially at the high school level or younger. Analyzing the appeal of propaganda, and assigning students to write about why a person might agree with it and why another person might disagree, would be a far better one. The question of what makes certain people susceptible to being manipulated is an extremely important one, and would be a worthy and even vital topic. Writing the propaganda? Not so much.

This assignment looks like it could easily foster the very prejudices it is supposedly meant to counteract. It’s probably no accident that it’s about anti-Semitism, either, because there are so many other groups that might have been used for the propaganda-writing exercise that would almost certainly have been considered even more outrageous as subjects: for example, imagine the uproar had the assignment been to write propaganda against blacks, Muslims, or gays.

But I actually can imagine a group that would have been less controversial: I wonder what would have happened if the same assignment had been given, but the students had to devise an essay revolving around hatred of white men? We don’t lack for the material; just look at some of the campaign verbiage churned out by the left during the last couple of years, especially the election of 2012.

The sad truth is that human beings are very susceptible to propaganda, and that it is most effective when hidden behind a facade of good intentions. Even the Nazis understood this; their anti-Semitism wasn’t just “kill, kill, kill the Jews!” It was embedded in the message that Jews were evil and out to destroy the German nation, and therefore had to be fought in self-defense.

Here’s a little pamphlet for schoolchildren of the Reich (note the anti-moneylender theme, as well as the mimicking and usurping of the religious “catechism” format with which many German children were already familiar):

Which race must the National Socialist race fight against?

The Jewish race.


The goal of the Jew is to make himself the ruler of humanity. Wherever he comes, he destroys works of culture. He is not a creative spirit, rather a destructive spirit.

How is that evident?

The work of Aryan peoples shows a true creative spirit. The Jew is mostly a merchant, as he was for millennia in the past. There are no Jewish construction workers in Germany, no smiths, no Jewish miners or seamen. Nearly all major inventions were made by Aryans.

How has the Jew subjugated the peoples?

With money. He lent them money and made them pay interest. Thousands and thousands of Germans have been made wretched by the Jews and been reduced to poverty. Farmers whose land had been in the family for more than 100 years were driven from their land because they could not pay the interest.

What happened to those farmers?

They had to move to the cities. Torn from the land to which they belonged, robbed of their labor that gave their lives purpose and meaning, they fell victim to poverty and misery. Worn down, their souls crushed, they accepted Jewish doctrines that denied the Fatherland and opposed all that was nationalistic. Their strength and ability faded. The Jew had reached his goal.

What other guilt does the Jew bear?

While the German people was fighting a life and death battle during the World War, the Jew incited people at home and seduced them into treason. The November Revolution of 1918 that brought about Germany’s collapse was the work of the Jew.

The pamphlet goes on…and along with many other such publications for both young and old, helped to create the proper climate for the Nazis’ work.

One of the many legacies of the Holocaust is that comparison to the Nazis is a ready-made and almost surefire way to demonize any group, although it’s become somewhat old through incessant repetition. The problem is to distinguish between the movements that really do want to destroy other groups and those who are merely defending themselves against the unreasonable hatred of others. To the naive observer (and one who lacks critical thinking), the two can seem to resemble each other.

35 Responses to “How do you teach critical thinking?”

  1. sharpie Says:

    Critical thinking is exaxtly what changers do. That is why it is so powerful in the hands of those who employ it for change to the change they desire.

    An obvious fix for the English teacher: Establish multiple subjects and assign them randomly: Jew, blacks, gays, Muslims, and how about that school principal, Bitterman!

    We ourselves our being manipulated by allowing Wikipedia to define so much of our content. And Google.

  2. Sheryl Says:

    What a lazy teacher. Think how much more interesting the assignment could have been if she/he had used Animal Farm, or Atlas Shrugged. But instead of using propaganda already produced, the teacher would have to apply critical thinking to an assignment. Shudder!

  3. blert Says:

    Neo, the Nazis went further than ‘evil’ — they posited that Jews were Race Traitors to Greater Germany — even the Western World — and God — and were ultimately behind all of the negatives of the Great War/ WWI.

    Evil men warrant mere prison.

    Contagion requires isolation, quarantine — and ultimately sterilization.

    Nazi policy came in the shadow of the Spanish Flu — of which not enough is made of.

    Dating back to the first European plagues — the Jews were scapegoated.

    As I’ve previously posted: Merely keeping a Kosher kitchen — with its fastidious rules for cleanliness — was enough for most pathogens to “pass over” the Jewish homes.

    Rather than introspection as to just how slovenly non-Jewish households were — bitter minds fantasized that the evil was being spread by the Jews. Obviously, such thinking was totally counter-factual.

    As we see today — with Jews conflated with Nazis by Islamist propagandists — and Gaza portrayed as a ‘concentration camp’ (whose occupants refuse to leave) — spewing deliberately false and anti-rational narratives is still with us.

    We now know with certainty that Adolf was not only on drugs, but driven insane by fourth stage syphilis. (The terminal affliction of Lenin, to boot!)

    What I suspect is that Buraq and company are making high policy while being high on cannabis — a real bong-dreamer.


    All politics is local.

    So it should not surprise Pyongyang that the Wan disses Koreans.

    As anyone who’s seen “Do the Right Thing” might tell you, ghetto Blacks don’t hold Koreans in high regard.

    I would not be surprised to find that Barry can’t find money in his budget for any Pyongyang charity. Which would, of course, be redirected towards the North Korean Armed Forces.

    BTW, responding to Kim & Co. just makes the Pink House a co-dependent enabler.

  4. Gringo Says:

    “Critical Thinking” is one of a long line of Ed School fads. With the advent of tons of facts at one’s fingertips on the Internet, the “Critical Thinking” folks maintain there is now no need to “memorize facts” anymore. While I am in agreement that one needs to critically evaluate what one finds on the Internet, the existence of the Internet doesn’t mean that it is unnecessary to know facts. The more facts one knows, the more one can interpret and evaluate.

    An example of the importance of knowing facts is in my interpreting the controversy surrounding the new Pope and the terrorism and dirty war in Argentina in the 1970s. I remembered that Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul had written a series of articles in the New York Review from circa 1970-1990. I was then able to access them. I remembered where I had placed a photocopy of one of Naipaul’s articles that was behind a pay firewall. Facts count, also.

  5. Gina Says:

    I was working in textbook publishing when the term “critical thinking” started turning up in all the Teacher’s Editions. It had long been argued by the education establishment that the dread “rote learning” was responsible for falling achievement levels. Never mind that kids memorize stuff- like sports stats, song lyrics etc etc all the time and don’t suffer from it. Nonetheless, phonics were out, learning to add, subtract, multiply, divide was out, memorizing poems was out, learning the Presidents of the United State was out but critical thinking was in.

    I used to joke “how can you think critically when you have nothing to think about?” But of course it was just another way to give sellers of the Teacher’s Editions new jargon for a new adoption cycle and educators a new “outcome” that could not be measured and against which teachers could not be held accountable.

  6. LisaM Says:

    My son is in 6th grade and participates in Academic Games against other schools at a local university. One of his favorites is Propaganda. The definition is, “Players learn to recognize techniques of persuasion that are often used by advertisers, politicians, editorial writers, and in normal human interaction. Players increase their ability to discern the truth from smokescreens; they learn to figure out the reality of situations rather than getting duped by the techniques. Players become critical thinkers.”

    He loves it, and he now often recognizes propaganda in TV shows, reading stories or textbook lessons.

    I’d love to see this as a class for everyone, not just an academic game for a few.

  7. Mead Says:

    I’m very sympathetic to the idea of teaching critical thinking. It frustrates me that my own students (college history) don’t seem capable of going much beyond the level of rote memorization. Many of them are completely unaware that imagination and reasoning are more basic than facts, since lots of the “facts” we learn are reconstructed from evidence which doesn’t always speak for itself.

    So I try to teach critical thinking skills, but it’s very hard. As Neo points out at the start of this post, many teachers, especially in the lower grades, settle for undermining a few of their students’ received opinions in simplistic and destructive ways: “You thought the Founding Fathers were good guys! But some of them owned slaves and looked down on people who didn’t have property! Which makes them bad guys! Ha ha!” That kind of “critical thinking” is worse than no critical thinking at all.

    One conclusion I’ve come to is that, in order to really teach critical thinking, teachers have to be able to push students much harder than is really possible nowadays. Genuine thinking where you’re constantly challenging your own preconceptions is painful and difficult: to get used to it you either need to be put on the rack by somebody like Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase (“You will never find the correct, absolute, and final answer. In my classroom, there is always another question—another question to follow your answer.”) or else have to be drilled persistently for years in the art of arguing both sides (or multiple sides) of every issue.

    Without that kind of training, the think-like-a-Nazi assignment is liable to do more harm than good. I suspect most students won’t really learn the lesson the teacher is trying to get them to learn. Instead, they’ll probably just be strengthened in the relativism most of them have already absorbed from the culture around them: “Jews good? Jews bad? Two sides to every story!”

  8. expat Says:

    It seems to me that the self esteem movement combined with little information plus critical thinking exercises can lead to a bunch of know it alls. It drives me nuts to see 2nd graders lecturing adults on the environment.

    Real critical thinking comes from knowing what you don’t know and considering many sides of an issue. A bit of real-life experience doesn’t hurt either. There is a post up at PJM on Objectivism and Ayn Rand. I read some of the comments, and they sounded as if the writers had spent most of their lives with their noses stuck in philosophy books. Sometimes you need the kid who says the empirer is wearing no clothes even if said kid has not read Aristotle or Rand.

  9. Gina Says:

    I’d be surprised if any of your students are capable of “rote memorization.” I remember in grammar school when we had to memorize a poem each month that over time I perfected a method that helped me do it quicker and easier. I also remember that in learning the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables that I found patterns that not only allowed me shortcuts but also gave me a deeper understanding of
    math and numbers.

    I further doubt that any of your students have ever spent even one semester studying anything that required learning facts. I suppose pre-doctoral students still have to take microbiology but they’re probably asked whether they feel ok about the use of the term pathology.

    People don’t need to be trained in how to think. Thinking is like breathing, laughing, praying, cursing. We do it all the time.

    Your agenda is not to teach people “how to think” but to dictate to them what they think, what they believe, what they feel, what they value, and ultimately they will pay.

  10. sharpie Says:

    Critical thinking “Critical Thinking.”

    1. Take the definition of Critical Thinking from the Wikipedia site:

    Critical thinking is reflective reasoning about beliefs and actions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false.

    2. Take the postmodern truth (the only one according to postmodernism that there is) that there is no truth, henceforth, then, Truth serves Will, and is only a positional truth.

    3. Then the postmodern version of CT requires a Will for the inculcation of CT.

    4. And which Will shall it be? If it be any particular Will, an absolute chaos results.

    5. Conclusion: An Absolute Will, ie., the State, must be the Will which teaches Critical Thinking. Moreover, what is taught will not result in Truth, but only in an enforcement of an ideological conformity.

    6. Ain’t that kind of sorter what we have here, otherwise known as a failure to communicate?


    at 1:20

  11. JohnC Says:

    Where is her – the teacher’s – critical thinking about her own assumptions, her attitudes, her behavior? Personal reflection? A teachable moment? I doubt it. My assumption is that there was never much critical thinking going on in that mind.

  12. Gringo Says:

    I also remember that in learning the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables that I found patterns that not only allowed me shortcuts but also gave me a deeper understanding of math and numbers.

    I am not sure if I did this in primary school, but it definitely kicked in in high school. From primary school, I got a good grounding in basic arithmetic operations. My exposure to “new math” in 9th grade algebra, where we were required to write proofs regarding basic arithmetic operations, using the commutative, associative and distributive principles, helped me see that one could make quick estimates using short cuts based on those principles. 64X19= (64X20)-(64+1). Etc.

    With the help of basic arithmetic and “new math,” I became a good estimator. I can often calculate in my head faster than punching out a calculator.

  13. Mead Says:

    Gina: Thinking is something we all do naturally, but we don’t usually do it well or consistently, particularly about subjects where our own immediate interests aren’t at stake. A lot more happens in school than just memorization. Even learning to read or write involves practice in certain kinds of thinking.

    All I can say beyond that is that your understanding of my students and my “agenda” differs from my own. I’m not totally sure what allows you to be so certain about the experiences and aims of people you’ve never met.

  14. sharpie Says:

    I see Townhall has a post about the event. It is titled “Appalling: High School Teacher Assigns Students Essay on Why “Jews Are Evil.”

    Without more info on the particular teacher and the factual situation, the whole episode could be just a rather poor teaching exercise in method but not substance.

    It looks like some conservatives are responding rather hysterically and applying their own version of political correctness. We don’t know if the teacher was anti-semitic. If the teacher is, then appropriate action needs to be taken. But letting an individual episode become a torch and pitchfork parade is what is appalling.

  15. Steve Says:

    neo, another group that would have been less controversial is conservatives. I can imagine the students being given an essay in which they must argue why conservatives are evil.

  16. George Munger Says:

    Neo – will have to agree with Sharpie. Am a wholehearted fan of yours, truly, but think you have jumped so far ahead of the facts here that perhaps there is more than a little political correctness in your response to this story.

  17. Gina Says:

    My apologies. I did not mean to include you in my criticism of the edu establishment overall. The point I was trying to make is that there are various thought operations, cause and effect, correlation, cumulative effect, chronological effect, analogy, simile etc. that can be usefully taught but if you don’t know what happened militarily in 1865 and 1971, you have nothing to think about, critically or otherwise, about the effect of the end of the war on local economic interests.

  18. G Joubert Says:

    Regardless of his intentions, the holocaust was too horrific and too recent to be trivialized this way. An error of bad judgement, in the least.

  19. Gringo Says:

    Getting students to see other points of view is a pedagogical approach has been going on for a long, long time. When my uncle was a student teacher shortly after the end of World War II, he had a class prepare for a debate on the Civil War. Both sides of the debate prepared well and took their assignments seriously, to the extent that the day of the debate there was fighting and shoving- a veritable Civil War in the class. At least one student remembered the debate so well that a half century after the debate he tracked my uncle down to send my uncle a book he had written. In the short note of dedication the student turned author wrote in the book, he mentioned the debate.

    For a high school Spanish class in the 1960s, we prepared for a debate on Spain after Franco. I wrote the argument for the “Spain will become less repressive after Franco” approach.

    In a Politics class I took in high school, which was during the Civil Rights era, at one point our teacher directed us to look at different points of view in the dispute. A friend- whose view on Civil Rights reflected those of his impeccably liberal parents- got into the exercise so much that he posted signs in support of the White Citizens’ Council on the corridor walls of the school. The teacher promptly removed the signs.
    Dealing with the Nazi era in Germany would need to be done carefully. I do not consider it a bad idea to take a “there but for fortune go I” approach for students. Had any of us who are Gentiles been in Germany in the 1930s, would we have been passive enablers or even worse, enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis, or would we have resisted? It is a point I have pondered without any prompting from a teacher.

    If you are going to have students look at things from the Nazi point of view, you also need to point out to them the lies and irrational thinking involved. For example, the Nazis maintained that the German defeat in WW I was a “stab in the back,” maintaining that without the Armistice, Germany would have won the war. The truth was rather different from the “stab in the back” tale. By the time of the Armistice, the German army’s position was at the point of collapse. Without the Armistice, the Allies would have marched into Germany.

    Did the teacher also point out the lies and irrationalities of the Nazis?

  20. neo-neocon Says:

    George Munger: In my post I wrote [emphasis added]:

    No one is suggesting this teacher actually was trying to teach anti-Semitism or to indoctrinate his/her students in it. The assignment was part of a unit on the Holocaust, and the goal (supposedly) was to teach how hate propaganda works, and how susceptible people are to it.

    But an assignment to write propaganda certainly doesn’t seem like a good way to do this, especially at the high school level or younger. Analyzing the appeal of propaganda, and assigning students to write about why a person might agree with it and why another person might disagree, would be a far better one. The question of what makes certain people susceptible to being manipulated is an extremely important one, and would be a worthy and even vital topic. Writing the propaganda? Not so much.

    This assignment looks like it could easily foster the very prejudices it is supposedly meant to counteract.

    In other words, the assignment was nothing more than a failure of judgment in terms of the choice of assignment in order to teach the students what was intended. No particular bigotry was intended by the teacher, but the unintended effects could be negative.

    I think perhaps you misunderstood what I was getting at.

    And the rest of my post is not about the teacher or the lesson, but about propaganda itself, and its uses, as practiced in Nazi Germany.

  21. david foster Says:

    Gringo…”Had any of us who are Gentiles been in Germany in the 1930s, would we have been passive enablers or even worse, enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis, or would we have resisted?”

    Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, was a young attorney in the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht, on the day in 1933 when the Nazis sent their minions into the building.

    Haffner was in the library, reading some document on which he had to give an opinion. There was a clatter of footsteps in the corridor, shouts, and doors banging. Brown uniforms surged in, and the leader announced that all “non-Aryans” must leave immediately. One brown shirt approached Haffner and asked “Are you Aryan?”

    Before I had a chance to think, I had said, ‘Yes.’ He took a close look at my nose–and retired. The blood shot to my face. A moment too late I felt the shame, the defeat….I had failed my very first test.

    As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed.

    That evening, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katacombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink:

    His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting.

    In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.”

  22. sharpie Says:

    Who holds title to the game of education?

    Perhaps, by Design, it’s the Jesuits and the Puritans and the Jews. Certainly not completely monolithic but these groups educated for a purpose which was much more than merely providing thinking skills, or for that matter, facts. These groups thought long term because their faith assigned them responsibility to educate and because they saw themselves in History and not just the Moment.

    Totalitarian educators share the historical committment but ultimately create subjects who do not share the historical committment. In our American case, when many parents and students do not possess the historical committment, the State has an advantage, at least in the beginning. However, there is a metastabilizing power. Children are indoctrinated and placed into slavery, but the historical committment loses its edge when the original motor (usually outrage) attenuates over time (North Korea). Subjects, if they can, will flee or rebel when the historical committment is divorced from meaning.

    It appears the historical committment has strength and vigor when it means something and ultimate meaning is slippery and finds its way past the guards and cudgels installed against it. Ultimate meaning and meaningful education might, therefore, be intimitely connected. Their connection might indicate that results cause us to think and learn. When real thinking and learning stops being taught, the slippery power begins. Good educators watch themselves to ensure they align with the slippery power.

  23. Ira Says:

    I think this lesson might have been intended (with appropriate follow-up) to show how people, particularly young people, get coerced into groupthink. As part of a course on the Holocaust, I think it was appropriate. I am a Jew and a conservative, and I am not offended by this lesson. I think it could have had very positive results, including in the critical thinking area.

  24. Mead Says:

    Gina: I agree totally about the importance of knowing facts. In my initial post, all I meant was that it’s much easier to get students to memorize facts than to get them to think about them. This may be more true of history than of other fields.

    I think one of the reasons politicized education is so effective is that many students just soak up and memorize opinions AS IF they were facts. Someone tells them that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery and many of them just accept it, the same way they’d accept that we now have a more accurate measurement of the average atomic weight of some molecule. I desperately want my students to ask themselves how their teachers are coming up with their conclusions.

    I know that for a lot of teachers “critical thinking” is just a cover for indoctrination, so I completely understand your response to my comment. I just really want to make it clear that I’m not one of those people.

  25. T Says:

    Mead: “you either need to be put on the rack by somebody like Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase . . . or else have to be drilled persistently for years in the art of arguing both sides (or multiple sides) of every issue.”

    I offer that this gets to the heart of the matter. People seem to be reacting to the subject matter of the exercise. I rather think the exercise fails because of its limitation. I offer that a better exercise would have been to write an argument for both sides of the issue: why are the Jews the source/why are Jews not the souce of all of our problems? To take only one side of this argument, and expecially this side in the current environment of leftist anti-Israeli fervor smacks more of propagandiizing than teaching.

    Neo: “There are no Jewish construction workers in Germany, no smiths . . . “

    That is actually quire amusing, while there may have been a dearth of Jewish blacksmiths there were, even in Germany, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths (and I would add Wordsmiths) aplenty. As for the lack of representation of Jews in the manual trades let us remember that Joseph was a carpenter, Noah became a boatwright and I’d bet the tribes didn’t subcontract the making of the Ark of the Covenant to a gentile nor Solomon his temple.

  26. T Says:

    Mead: . . . it’s much easier to get students to memorize facts than to get them to think about them. This may be more true of history than of other fields . . .

    This is why I truly believe that art history is a truly unsung discipline of major importance.

    [Pardon the following pseudo-commercial announcement]

    When I taught art history, I always approached it as a fingerprint of culture, not as a history of style. I had the advantage actually illustrating the effect of historical change as opposed to simply ruminating over its theory.

    One can compare the art of the Renaissance and Reformation to the Counter-Reformation and actually see the difference wrought by ideology, conquest, legislation and social structure. One can compare the Impressionists to the Salon tradition and suddenly those upstarts take on a personality that enlivens the world in which they live (all the better to learn its history).

    I often received comments from students that they learned much more history in class than they ever expected to; this, IMO, is as it should be.

  27. neo-neocon Says:

    T: I bet there were Jewish tradespeople in Germany, and if there were not, it was probably because they had a tradition of being kept out of the field by guilds.

    Some very interesting history about this can be found here.

    So they were mostly excluded, and then they were blamed for it.

  28. T Says:


    This is not surprising. Guilds have always been exclusionary. Their purpose is to protect their members not serve the market place. You are a guild member or you are not; you are a member of the Socialist party or you are not. Many people forget that even in the U.S. unions originally excluded blacks.

    Today, many unions don’t even protect their members—they protect their union leaders even at the expense of their membership.

  29. Ira Says:

    “So they were mostly excluded, and then they were blamed for it.”

    Which would have been a great follow up lesson after the essays were written.

  30. sharpie Says:

    Ann Althouse provides an exceptional example of critical thinking with regards to the Tiger Woods’s “not getting disqualified” controversy/cover-up.

    And the reason Althouse’s CT example is so exceptional is due to the hurdle one has to overcome to even present it. That hurdle is the possibility that the Masters Rules Committee is actually capable of conspiracy with Tiger,which conspiracy would lead to lying and allowing Tiger to cheat. In other words, Tiger and the Committee conspired and cheated together.

    Posit the theories and consider the facts. Make your inferences and conclusions. Perhaps you never make a solid conclusion.

    Here’s the factual situation:

    On the 15th hole, Tiger hits a beautiful shot that bounces off the flag pole and into the water. What a freaking unleaky break. How unfair! Lots of irony here. Tiger is tied with the lead and remember his statement that “winning takes care of everything?” Kind of sets the stage for an alternative interpretation, the Althouse interpretation.

    Tiger takes a “penalty drop” and continues his game. He finishes the days round of 18 holes and signs his score card.

    A friend of a rules official sees the penalty drop on TV and brings a challenge that Tiger’s penalty drop was unlawful. The challenge is brought to the attention of the Masters Rules Committee and they rule the penalty drop was proper. An hour later, in interviews, Tiger admits facts which make his penalty drop unlawful. The facts he admits are that he took two steps away from the designated drop zone in order to avoid a grain of grass that makes striking the ball more difficult.

    Wow. Since the Committee had previously ruled that Tiger’s drop was proper, the issue now is whether or not Tiger’s facts prove Tiger knew he had taken an “erroneous” penalty drop? This is important because a player is disqualified for signing an incorrect score card.

    The above are the basis facts and rules. The first interpretation, the “pro-Tiger” interpretation, is that Tiger would not knowingly admit facts leading to his disqualification. Of course the main problem with this intepretation is that it requires Tiger to forget basic fundamental rules regarding the penalty drop, rules which everyone knows he knows. People believing Tiger respond that his state of mind should be credited, and it was also just a big mistake, and hey, are you calling everyone a cheater and a liar?

    Yeah, Althouse says, as intepretation number two. It is at least a reasonable interpretation of the facts to consider that the Committee knew Tiger had taken an improper drop and colluded with Tiger and devised a process to allow him to continue to play. The evidence of the improper drop is there on vidoe. It’s recorded. And that evidence shows everyone that Tiger took a drop that violated the rules.

    The interpretation requires something like this: The Committee tells Tiger, we’ll rule the drop proper if you later admit it was improper. Now your admission won’t be a confession. You won’t be admitting you knew you took an erroneous drop, but by relating the details, it will be apparent that the penalty drop was in violation of the rules. That way, the whole issue of whether or not we as the Committee made a bad ruling will be moot. Then, we will absolve you of the issue of signing an incorrect scorecard by saying we could not impose the harsh penalty of disqualification because our earlier decision failed to inform you that you had made an unlawful penalty drop.

    Now, which is more likely: That Tiger forgets a basic rule of golf or that the promoters and Tiger conspired, lied and cheated in order to keep Tiger in play.

  31. Mary in OH Says:

    What JohnC says.

  32. ErisGuy Says:

    I guess high school is too early to implement a “Nazi Studies” department to match college studies departments, which have similar goals and biases as this teacher’s assignment.

    I agree this is objectionable, and I wonder why more people don’t object to similar programs in college. Some hate is OK, I guess.

  33. E.M.H. Says:

    Too many people think of “critical thinking” as “looking at the other side’s viewpoint”. That’s evident in this teacher’s assignment. Problem is, that itself is fallacious thinking, as it merely presumes that a topic is divisible into a pair of valid sides. Really, life has more permutations than that; sometimes there’s more than one viewpoint. And sometimes, something’s not amenable to division, and is simply either right or wrong. “Taking the other side” is an oversimplification of things.

    A better way to have taught critical thinking would have been to compare what the Nazi regime said about the Jewish people and compared that with how they really were. Or in short, take the claims and compare them against evidence. THAT is true critical thinking. You don’t have to fake advocacy for a side to understand where it’s coming from, and indeed, I fear that doing so sometimes can be misleading. You can’t often truly replicate how a person or group comes to their conclusions; you can only hope that the mutual interaction based on common or objective factors – such as logic – will illuminate things for all and lead to further development of stances, but the point is that you don’t always want to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. Doing so has utility, but can be overextended.

    Critical thinking has always been less about the paradigm of “sides” and more about which line of thought has the better supporting evidence. I don’t have to advocate for the Nazi side to understand why they did what they did; I merely have to study their own stances and the context they were developed in. And from that, I can take lessons every bit as valuable as what I’d learn from advocating for a side, then having all that advocacy crushed by the weight of actual history. And I’d have gotten there sooner without having to have spent all that energy replicating the big, long trip.

  34. Ymarsakar Says:

    Why would the Left’s Deus Ex Machina Utopia want slaves that think for themselves?

    That’s got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard since 2008.

  35. T Says:


    If you are still following this thread, allow me to elaborate. In my comment above (4/14 @ 4:33) I suggest a better exercise would have been to write an amicus brief for both sides of the issue. My point was not to do so in order to understand how the other side thinks (the point you note in your comment above).

    Your comment (“. . . in short, take the claims and compare them against evidence. THAT is true critical thinking”) is spot on. My intention was that by being forced to argue the other side you are forced to confront the facts to build an argument and if the facts don’t support the argument, the fallacious argument, itself, implodes.

    Neither consensus nor passion contribute to the validity of any argument and it was not my intent to imply that either is critical thinking. They masquerade as critical thinking rather than substitute for it.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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