Interesting post. I firmly believe that education is actually about teaching one how to think and how to learn, rather than the force-feeding of facts. However - what level of education do you think that one needs to have before this kind of analysis comes naturally?

I ask because we are currently renting a room to a young Polish woman, who has what seems to be a fairly standard education for her contemporaries at home; in school until she was eighteen. She is now twentythree and is considering going back to college to study English and Philosophy. She came home shocked speechless the other day because one of her similar-age British colleagues at the pub she is working in, with a similar school-leaving age didn't know what Philosophy was. Not hadn't been taught Philosophy. But actually didn't know what it was.

I don't think students *are* being taught how to think any more, here, anyway.

David Duff

I sympathise with much that you have written but I would warn against over-intellectualising everything. There is much in our lives which is instinctive no matter how we might attempt to justify it 'post facto'. Also, going in the opposite direction, there is only so much that intellectualising can inform you in making decisions for the future. Usually there comes a moment when you simply have to say (please excuse the 4-letter word), "Shit or bust!"


These habits should, ideally, become ingrained by the constant process of having professors tear apart the papers you write or by having professors or other students question your assumptions when you speak in class

It would be a shame if this process was held off until college. I think most parents should start slipping socratic method into their discussions with their children. For a very interesting example of how this process works I'd suggest this essay on Socratic Method in which a teacher taught binary math to his 3rd graders. And they understood too! Think about that for a second, most college graduates couldn't even tell you what binary math is.

Now instead of waiting for college professors to challange the thinking of students, imagine how fruitful it would be if this was happening more frequently in High Schools. I point you to this post from a high school teacher in which he challenged a 15 year old girl's activism on the genocide in Darfur. This example, I think, will split readers into two camps - those who applaud the young student's activism and her wanting to "do something" and those who think that her wanting to "do something" should be bounded by reality - such as food aid being hi-jacked by armed Janjaweed and government soldiers and the unarmed NGOs not being in a position to stop the banditry.

Being challenged on one's thinking is, I'd say, one of the most effective methods of education.

The Happy Feminist

You've anticipated one of my next posts TangoMan, on the glories of the Socratic method and, specifically why it is great for women.

I completely agree that there is no reason critical thinking skills shouldn't be taught sooner. In an ideal world, we shouldn't need college for that. Strangely enough, I'd seen the article about the guy and the 3rd graders already! I look forward to reading the post about the high school teacher and the girl's activism.


Seeing as how I'm from Texas, I have no idear what ya'll are talking about since there are so many "childs left behind" in my state thanks to the Dubya and many of us'n cain't read to good neither. Thanks anyways.

The Happy Feminist

OK, TangoMan, I am back from reading the post on the high school teacher who critiqued the 15-year old girl's attempted fundraiser to combat genocide in Darfur-- and frankly, it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

I don't have a problem with questioning the effectiveness of raising money for Darfur. Youthful activists should learn early to find out what the money they raise will be used for and whether it will be used effectively. They should also be taught to educate themselves thoroughly on the causes for which they are fighting. Clearly, the young girl in the post was not ready to debate and support her point of view.

But Darren's tone and negativity bother me, particularly coming from a high school teacher. I don't like his mocking of the "bubbly" letters (do I detect a sligtht whiff of sexism there, perhaps?) or the general mockery of a very young student who is trying (albeit ineffectually) to accomplish something.

Reading between the lines of the post, I think that he lost the opportunity for a teaching moment. He very well may be right when he proclaims, "There's nothing we're going to do to help those people" because the soldiers are taking all the food for themselves. But I think it was wrong for him to tell his class and the young woman in essence, "Don't even bother trying."

I think it would have been more helpful if he had said, "My opinion is that there is nothing we can do because of x, y, and z. But since you feel strongly about trying to help these people, you shouldn't take my word for it. But you do need to educate yourself about where the money/food is going and whether it will actually help the people you are trying to help-- and here are some ways you can go about researching this. And if it's not going to help, you should try to research organizations that are perhaps doing something more effective or you should brainstorm other things that could be done."

I got the definite the impression that he was just trying to tear down this young girl and the "P.C. mentality" at his school, rather than actually help her or her classmates become more effective critical thinkers.



I first came across the post from this Joanne Jacobs link (be sure to read the comments where a lot of important points are made.) I too recognized the same tone in the commentary and here's how I put it in perspective. Either he is a bad teacher or there is a misconnect between what he wrote and how I'm interpreting it. My general rule is that I'll err to misinterpretation before I'll entertain bad motive. Then I thought about the girl's reaction and it appeared to me that she took this so personally because his comments threatened her self-image as a compassionate person moreso than it did the proceeds that she could send to an aid agency. If she was concerned about the latter I would think she'd be interested in finding a more effective way of getting the school's contribution to the victims. What happened instead though is she got on her moral high horse, castigated the teacher for not doing anything to stop the Jewish Holocaust, etc. and was positioning herself as someone who is doing good work.

BTW, this student wasn't his student. From his writing, I discern that he had a good teaching moment with his students and this girl didn't appreciate his message and came to confront him about it.

The Happy Feminist

Fair enough. I should stress that I am "reading between the lines." I left the same comment over at his blog, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.

I will also give him a free pass on the "bubbly" letters comment, since bubbly letters DO look pretty juvenile.

Mrs. B

Tango man...this is off-topic but how did you get your quote in italics? What keys do you use for italics? I know you mentioned that you also need to shut the italics off when done?


When I thought about that girl's reaction, now don't laugh, but I thought about the Bill Bennett comment and how Slate's William Saletan took him to task arguing that it's immoral to judge unborn children on the current behavior of their parents while Saletan lived in a suburb of D.C. that was only 3% black and thereby doing the very thing he was criticizing. And speaking of Bennett, he was guilty of doing the same thing - moral preening about people's vices, and by implication that he was above such personal failures, all the while being a gambling addict. My impression, based on the severity of the girl's reaction, was that she was caught out in her moral posturing, and no one comes out looking good when exposed like that.

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