My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
It’s been a difficult week for America. Our country — our home — is being torn apart by hate and fear. Hate is animated by fear, which, in turn, is animated by ignorance. Hate mongers are often ignorant of the changing world around them, and are fearful for their future, for themselves. Don’t be like them.
Change is the ONLY constant! Things change. What worked once has no assurance it would work again given the quickly changing circumstances.
To survive — no, to THRIVE — we must adapt. In order to understand the ever-changing world so that we may best adapt to changing circumstances, we must first arm ourselves with knowledge about current scientific, social, political, cultural, and spiritual/moral developments.
In 1983, A Nation At Risk, a report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, found that many 17-year-olds did not possess the “‘higher-order’ intellectual skills” this country needed. It claimed that nearly 40 percent could not draw inferences from written material and only one-fifth could write a persuasive essay.
Following the release of A Nation At Risk, programs designed to teach students to think critically across the curriculum became extremely popular. By 1990, most states had initiatives designed to encourage educators to teach critical thinking, and one of the most widely used programs, Tactics for Thinking, sold 70,000 teacher guides.3 But, for reasons I’ll explain, the programs were not very effective — and today we still lament students’ lack of critical thinking.
After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it’s time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really. People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge). Thus, if you remind a student to “look at an issue from multiple perspectives” often enough, he will learn that he ought to do so, but if he doesn’t know much about an issue, he can’t think about it from multiple perspectives. You can teach students maxims about how they ought to think, but without background knowledge and practice, they probably will not be able to implement the advice they memorize. Just as it makes no sense to try to teach factual content without giving students opportunities to practice using it, it also makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content.
Dale Carnegie has it right. Go forth and get busy. Learn about the world. Get to know your neighbors, the barista who makes your coffee and the janitor who cleans your building, your boss and coworkers, etc. — get to know the challenges each faces daily. These are the stuff life is made of … the real stuff through which we connect with each other — other human beings — on a fundamental and humanistic level.
Reserve judgement unless and until necessary. You can ALWAYS judge. But, until necessary, seek first to understand. Read voraciously. TALK TO PEOPLE…not about silly and empty stuff, such as their clothes or the weather, but about things that matter TO THEM!
All my love, always
P.S., I leave you with the following thoughts: