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Critical Times for Critical Thinking

How can significant issues be tackled when a culture of cynicism and relativism has destroyed appreciation for the truth?

by
Elizabeth Scalia

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June 20, 2008 - 8:35 am
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“Yeah, it is that simple. He lied, and we all know it. So STFU. Now.” — Marecek

That was one of 1,643 comments left in response to Fred Hiatt’s June 9 piece in the Washington Post, entitled “Bush Lied? If Only It Were That Simple,” which covered the findings of the Select Committee on Intelligence, headed by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV).

Marecek’s was the majority opinion.

In writing his piece for the editorial page of the Washington Post, Hiatt — that page’s editor — made the mistake of actually quoting passages of this report, which claimed that a host of “lies” of which President Bush has been accused since 2003 were “substantiated by intelligence.”

Vituperation and ad hominem attacks were left as commentary at the paper’s website, with calls for Hiatt’s immediate firing, for — apparently — his treason in quoting a report, written by a Democratic majority, that dared to depart from a narrative that has become conventional wisdom.

You know? The more I think about this lying idiot that edits WaPo, the more I realize how venal and corrupt the neo-cons really are. They really have no shame. No shame at all. Their corruption is complete. Frankly, the Emperor in Star Wars had more integrity than these neo-cons. Hiatt truly is a lapdog. — santafe2

I showed the article and comments to several friends of various backgrounds. One who works in media shot back: “if you don’t like the message, ignore it and kill the messenger!”

A friend who homeschools her children — and does it so well that the oldest has won a full academic scholarship to a university — was surprised that commenters would express such contempt not for the committee findings, which contradicted their worldview, but for the reporter who covered it. “It’s illogical,” she said. “Do public schools no longer teach critical thinking skills?”

Curious about that myself, I asked a friend who teaches social studies at a local and very well-regarded high school. “We’re supposed to be teaching critical thinking,” she said. “It’s in all the local and state standards, but in practice … there’s only so much time.”

“I really do try to tell my students to keep an open mind and consider all sides,” she continued, “but how much effect do you think that has when they get their news from sound bites followed by sarcasm on Comedy Central, and they see teachers wearing ‘Bush Lied’ buttons on their lapels? The button gives a cue: ‘Think this way, you’ll get an A.’ That’s pretty alluring. There is nothing out there actively encouraging reasonable thought; we do not teach logic.”

A quick poll of college freshmen around the house found little to disagree with in her assessment. “Mr. B. did make a point of telling us to listen to both sides and make up our own minds, but mostly you knew where a teacher stood politically, because even if they tried not to show it, you could see it in how they taught — how they’d talk up what they supported and barely mention the other side.”

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