Critical Thinking – Apply as Needed

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I have an entire world of stuff that I want to learn, but I know that I’ll never go further on my quest for knowledge if I wait until my life is all in order. So, this morning, it was time to just pick something, anything, and begin.

With the upcoming election in part hinging on the state of our economy, I decided to jump into economics. I didn’t want to commit myself to a class with a schedule, though. Instead, I got myself a textbook, and started in. I didn’t get out of the introduction before I was stopped cold, perplexed at what I had just read.

A high income can make it very costly to take a day off; we might expect highly paid individuals to work more hours than those who are not paid as well.

Principles of Economics v. 1.0, by Libby Rittenberg & Timothy Tregarthen

When I saw this quote, I found it very confusing. In the first place, most highly paid individuals are paid on a salary basis, not an hourly one, so taking a day off here and there shouldn’t make a bit of difference to their income. Also, it struck me as confusing cause and effect. I think that highly paid individuals work more hours because they find the work more challenging and gratifying, not that they work more hours because the cost to take a day off is so high.

In fact, when I correlate pay with hours, I think that people who make a low wage would have the incentive to work more hours because they don’t make much in any particular hour. They have to add a lot of hours together to make anything worthwhile.

Guess that’s why I’m not an economist. But part of what I hope to accomplish in my quest for knowledge is to exercise my critical thinking skills, so I see arguing with the professor right off the bat as a good thing, in its own way. Okay, next page.

Economists work in three types of organizations. About 58% of economists work for government agencies. The remainder work for business firms or in colleges and universities.

Wow. I never considered that the prime employer for economists was the government. Add to that teachers, firefighters, and policemen. I wonder how many other professions the government provides the most jobs for.

And what is also fascinating is that many colleges and universities are public institutions. How come they’re not counted as working for the government? Don’t know the answer to that, either, but I am becoming cautious in accepting everything these authors opine, without some further reflection.

I guess this course is going to be as much about critical thinking as it is about economics. The essence of critical thinking is not accepting every statement as a given. Every pronouncement must be taken apart and carefully examined for bias, prejudice, misstatement of fact, and adherence to reality. It may turn out that you were mistaken in your analysis of the situation, but thinking critically encourages you ask.

And we need more encouragement to ask, to question. Questioning is being pushed out of our education system. Instead of encouraging questions, experimentation, and give and take, teachers are spoon-feeding pre-approved answers to students. Those students then are graded on how well they are able to regurgitate. They are discouraged from coming up with alternate solutions, and are warned against being wrong, as though being wrong is something to be avoided instead of being merely a step on the road to greater knowledge.

It is this failure to teach critical thinking skills that is one of the causes of the so-called polarization of our political parties. When voters who haven’t been taught the skills to tear apart arguments to their bare essence, or to test the validity of statements against known experiences, are instead whipped into a frenzy by appeals to their emotions, how could anything but ultra-partisanship result?

When voters don’t think, compromise is impossible. You can’t get people all hot and bothered over the sad state of the homeless, state unequivocally that the only solution is for government to step in where private individuals, businesses and charities have failed, then expect them to agree that it’s okay if we don’t take care of every sad soul who may end up lacking shelter at some point.

You can’t state that the world is a dangerous place, and getting worse, threaten dirty bombs in every port, on every flight, and in any city at any time, and not expect people to want to protect themselves, no matter the cost.

Emotional appeals are useful, no doubt about it. But in a thinking society, they are just one of the tools that a person may use to bolster his argument. In a thinking society, the audience would require a logical progression from A to B, with relevant stops along the way. The person putting forth the argument would be required to explain why his solution is the better/only way to get the job done, and to set up authentic alternatives before exposing the weaknesses of those alternatives.

On the other hand, when students have been trained for years to accept the answer given by the teacher, with failing the course as the only other option, they automatically turn to their leaders for the same dynamic. The hitch comes when the potential leaders have been brought up under the same sort of system. When they haven’t been taught critical thinking skills, either. When they can’t tell whether a problem is truly a problem; whether it is capable of or amenable to, a solution; whether the solution that pops into their heads fits the parameters of the problem; whether it will tend to actually solve the problem; whether it is an appropriate solution to the perceived problem; and whether it is the only or the best solution.

When the blind lead the blind, we all tend to bump into walls. What further exacerbates the mess is when the proposed solution either doesn’t fix the problem, or in fact makes it worse. At that point, the proposer of the solution and his adherents have invested so much time, money, effort, and reputation into proclaiming this solution as the one, that there is no incentive to switch course. They are compelled instead to defend their failure of a solution even more, through the use of stronger emotional arguments.

How can this be, you ask. Why can’t they just give it up as a lost cause, and move on? Ah, now we switch from economics to psychology—and that’s a rant for another day.


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Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Elections, Politics

7 responses to “Critical Thinking – Apply as Needed

  1. Don

    If being wrong is merely a step on the road to greater knowledge, I can’t imagine how smart the Obama team would be if they were given four more years.

  2. I became friends with a math teacher in 1975. Poor guy was apoplectic because the school board was watering down the math class requirements. His point: they didn’t want to teach the children to think, to work through a problem to the logical conclusion. It’s working.

  3. Pingback: Continuing On In the Face Of Disappointing Results | tredalong

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