Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Critical Thinking

A couple of years ago, a young woman from Texas announced to me that she was "against critical thinking." Noting the look of dumbfounded confusion that is a sort of trademark of mine, she explained further, "I think people are too critical about things, and always finding fault. The world would be a better place if we weren't so critical."

Ah. Just so. I had no idea where the comment came from, but was content to let it rest there.

It wasn't until months later that I learned that "critical thinking" was a political issue in Texas, and the state Republican Party had actually taken a position against it. As the woman's husband was active in GOP politics, her remark suddenly had a context. In the Texas GOP's view, critical thinking had "the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Well, it depends on the parents, I guess. As a child, our dinner table was a debate club, and I think my parents liked it that way. Somebody who had opinions had better watch out – there was bound to be somebody at the table who had facts! It was no holds barred, but I can remember only one low blow. I had just shredded my sister Kay's position on a critical issue of the day (was it Quemoy and Matsu?) when she leaned across the table, studied my face, and asked, "Do you know you have a booger hanging from your nose?"

I mean, really. Talk about an ad hominem attack.

I've been thinking a lot about critical thinking lately. Let me just say that, contrary to Texas, I think critical thinking is a good thing, generally. Actually, I don't think there is any other kind that actually qualifies as thinking. There are articles on the internet about it, and a Wikipedia entry that purports to list its components. Several of them are useful.

I got to thinking about critical thinking again when I saw this remarkable interview [below] of the author Reza Aslan about his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. If you haven't seen it, you must. Thanks largely to the interview, the book is now #1 on the Amazon best-seller list, which is a good thing.

Although Aslan admits there are no new ideas or insights in his book, his popularization will bring a lot of people up-to-date on the last 200 years of fascinating scholarship about Jesus. For many, it will challenge their fixed beliefs and undermine their parents' authority.

The interviewer, Lauren Green, is a former Miss Minnesota who attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. It would be very embarrassing if they actually gave her a degree.

By the way: Am I the only one who thinks it's kind of funny that the lion that represents Jesus in C.S. Lewis' book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, is also named Aslan?


c said...

I remember those dinner time conversations and debates very well. If anyone dared to contest my veracity concerning the best bread dough with which to catch carp at Cooper's Pond, I had the facts!
A & P white bread!
And yes, I think you may be the only one who thinks its kind of funny that the lion that represents Jesus in C.S. Lewis' book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, is also named Aslan.

Bob Miller said...

Well, it's good to know these things.

Virginia Ted said...

I heard Aslan interviewed on NPR a few days ago. He described his personal journey from Christianity to Islam. So he's not trying to hide anything. From his interview, I actually learned a lot about Jesus and the times in which he lived. From watching this interview, I learned a lot about Fox News that I already knew.