Recently, there have been opinion pieces in our newspaper from laypersons and elected officials alike, speaking out against “politics” in our schools and standing against citizens being centered on good science in our fight against COVID-19.
They each fail, dramatically, to deliver solid points when we subject them to any serious examination. They appear to reflect a failure not just of knowledge, but of knowing how to know … of critical thinking, something that is an essential capacity of a quality citizen life.
I have an ask, and some thoughts, for Carroll County women, men and families.
Make no mistake: I’ve had moments in my own life where I failed to think critically, and just reacted; where I allowed my implicit biases to shape my responses in ways where I was completely sure I was right. Then, like lightning, the arrogance of those moments were shot through with new/better information, and I paused, realizing my entire take was wrong.
I’m asking our county, as a community, to think about when, in their own lives, they delivered flawed changes, or suffered the results of significant decisions, made out of a lack of knowledge, out of lack of tying what we do to what we really do know.
I'm asking our community to pause and work differently in this crisis moment to challenge our internal narratives and deploy some critical thinking to better see and know the circumstances, and, importantly, one another.
Critical thinking is typically defined as having three steps: 1. Becoming aware that assumptions exist; 2. Making such assumptions explicit; 3. Assessing their accuracy (Do these assumptions make sense? Do these assumptions fit reality as we understand and live it? Under what conditions do these assumptions seem to hold true? Under what conditions do they seem false?).
My worry? Some who write here do so as if they have infallible, perfect knowledge; when they write, they come at a particular issue with (to them) the final, immutable way to address such issues, regardless of other people’s ability to use those “three steps” to point out the flaws, and, importantly, to test the accuracy (or lack of accuracy) of what’s been said.
As a result, far too many of my fellow residents deliver thinking disconnected from what we as a society already know. In offering opinions that live outside what we know to be true, we move down an unfortunate path toward several cultures lost to history, ones that abandoned critical thinking for something that did not sustain them.
Does any commissioner in Carroll County have better information on COVID-19, and how to respond to it, than the epidemiologist lowest on the totem pole at CDC or our own Maryland Department of Health? Given Commissioner Bouchat’s recent submissions (in a paper of record!), it is clear that at least Bouchat does not. Can any conservative’s lament against “politics” in our schools dismiss the reality of my three mixed-race children’s experiences in CCPS? Not with the examples provided in this column. For each “example”-as-anecdote, I can give 10 to 12 others, and indeed have given many to the county’s Board of Education in, for example, working to rid our schools of the Confederate flag.
Critical examination of the opinions here — actually taking the time to: parse each statement; do research; conduct interview, outreach and document review; assert tested frameworks for knowing (with their own strengths and weaknesses); and coming to tentative conclusions, themselves examined with similar rigor — reveals the nature of many arguments found here, and in our daily lives.
Yet we must take the time to do this and live our lives! That requires an advanced skill in critical thinking; going beyond knowing how to know (itself a skill learned in a lifelong way), and into knowing how to detect which arguments are even worthy of consideration.
Too often, because of where American levels of civic discussion remains, we continue to debate often hateful arguments that many nations’ citizens moved beyond decades ago. Having lived here for years and having lived abroad with my family makes clear the strengths and weaknesses of how, where and what we are as a community; it’s information many don’t have, because many aren’t blessed to get outside the nation to see it from a different perspective.
Without that type of shift in perspective on how we see, know and talk with one another, and the need for critical thinking in public discussion, what happens?
Well, I believe that my children, my parents, and your own suffer the cost; it degrades the quality of our interactions, the things we can build together, and the possibility of a hopeful future.
Importantly, ask yourself, “who benefits as a result of this?” Who grows fat and prosperous on this model of discourse, which has citizens who might agree on the fundamentals disagreeing, when our general agreement should have moved us past much of this years ago, and should have informed our approaches when they matter most?
Who wins when you and I abandon measured, informed critical thinking? Who?
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Mel Brennan writes from Westminster.