The dream of many students is to spark up in school. A recent Washington state law just turned that dream into a reality. In Washington, a student who holds a medical marijuana card can now use marijuana products on school grounds.
By Jack Shields | United States
This week Judge Beth Bloom ruled the police at the Parkland school shooting had no duty to protect the students. The idea that children won’t be adequately protected in the United States of America during a school shooting is horrifying and needs to be solved immediately. The most obvious way to remedy this issue is to arm the teachers. The usual response when someone has proposed this idea or advocated for self-defense has been to treat it as an insane and unthinkable proposal. Ben Carson was mocked during the 2016 presidential campaign for claiming that kids should charge the shooter when he enters the room, and President Trump was torn apart when advocating giving the teachers firearms. While those in opposition are in the majority with 73% of teachers opposing guns in school, it is clear their logic is incorrect and we must arm teachers if we wish to protect students.
Why Not Police?
The first argument given against this is we should just rely on the police who are trained for this. If the judge’s ruling was not enough to disenchant you of this notion, there are many other reasons this is a terrible strategy. First, as many other pro-gun advocates have noted: when seconds matter the police are minutes away. The average school shooting is twelve minutes and thirty seconds. The average police response time to a school shooting is eighteen minutes. The police may be the best-trained there are and may have saved everyone, but they simply were not there. Sometimes you have to depend on localized solutions. You would never tell someone not to learn CPR because a trained doctor would do it better. Doctors won’t always be there.
Second, the police aren’t always good at their job. Just recently, a Texas police officer was convicted for murdering a teenager. David French of the National Review has reported on the murder of Botham Shem Jean by Officer Amber Guyger and many other similar cases. I don’t say this to disparage cops or say they’re always terrible at their jobs. The vast majority are great people putting their lives on the line for us every day and deserve a great deal of gratitude and respect. But they are human too, and that makes them prone to mistakes and prone to have a few bad apples in the mix. In the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting, the police were there but instead of going in and doing their jobs, they waited outside like cowards as children were murdered. We can’t always depend on them, and this decision proves that.
Do Guards Work?
The next reason the opposition brings up is that the armed teacher will likely be useless or even dangerous in a school shooting. This is also proven clearly untrue upon examination of self-defense statistics and the impact armed guards have already had on schools. While the cowards were hiding outside during the Parkland Shooting, football coach Aaron Feis died shielding his students. Fewer lives would have been lost if Coach Feis was armed.
Take, for example, the Great Mills High School Shooting in Maryland, which occurred just a month after the Parkland Shooting. It’s likely you haven’t heard as much about this shooting as the Parkland Shooting. That’s because the Resource Officer – a good guy with a gun – shot the shooter within seconds. The success of guns and self-defense also holds true in everyday life. According to a CDC study carried out under President Obama (no friend of gun rights), Americans use guns to defend themselves 500,000 to 3 million times a year, and when guns were used by the victim they consistently had fewer injuries than victims who were unarmed.
Self-defense works and those on the opposition are starting to realize this but in the most bizarre way possible. In Pennsylvania, Blue Mountain School District decided to give the kids a bucket of rocks to stone the shooter. Millcreek School District went a different an idea that could only have been conceived after watching Negan on The Walking Dead: giving the teachers mini-baseball bats to fight the shooter. Rather than beat around the bush, we should realize it’s clear that we need a way to defend children in schools and guns are the best way to do it.
Couldn’t Teacher be Dangerous?
Opponents will then claim that not all teachers should have guns and that if a teacher had a gun he or she might shoot a student. For the first point, it’s actually true not all teachers should have a gun. This is consistent with the stance of advocates for arming teachers. Obviously, not all teachers should have a gun, and none should be compelled to. They would have to go through training and know how to use it in a school shooting situation if they want to have one, which is more than reasonable and can be easily achieved. And the idea that a teacher will shoot us for talking or misbehaving is insane. Teachers are not lunatics who are sitting there craving to hurt kids, just waiting until we change the laws so they can do so. By this same logic gun-owning parents all over the country should be shooting their kids anytime they misbehave. No reasonable or moral person does this.
It also seems odd they bring this hypothetical up as a risk unique to this proposal. The possibility of this happening (albeit essentially zero) already exists in the status quo. Teachers have to pass background checks to be teachers, making the vast majority able to get a gun. Teachers have passes to get into the school whenever they please. And teachers are with the children in a room by themselves. If a crazy teacher was evil enough to want to shoot a kid they could do it already. The only thing that would change by allowing teachers to have guns is there would be a good teacher to stop them.
What if a Student Got a Gun?
The last claim made is an inverse of the third: claiming that bad students who are physically more powerful than them will overpower them, take the gun and use it on the teachers and the students. This is perhaps the laziest of their arguments and is actually addressed best by comedian Bill Burr. In one of his comedy specials, he mentions that when he told people he wanted to get a gun they informed him that your chances of getting shot increase as soon as there’s a gun in the house. He responded by telling them your chances of drowning went up when you get a pool.
Possessing any tool gives you the ability to misuse it. That’s why the teachers will be responsible citizens and have the training to prevent such situations from occurring. There are efficient ways to make sure the guns are safely stored and that kids won’t be able to take them. Your English teacher won’t be spinning a pistol in her hand and using a rifle as a back scratcher during class. And the possibility of this happening already exists.
My school and countless others have a resource officer on campus. He has a gun. By the logic of those in opposition, shouldn’t there be lots of misbehaving children attempting to get his gun? They don’t, because we have been taught not to. I live in a house with guns, and I’ve known where they are for most of my life. But I don’t try to take them and use them even when I’m in a bad mood because I’ve been taught that guns are a dangerous tool and should be treated as such. There’s no reason to think that this would change if teachers had guns.
Those in opposition may believe what they are doing is protecting children, but the facts disprove this. We need to protect our children, and the tactic of keeping guns as far away from the hands of good people in schools just isn’t doing it. We need an instant response in our schools that is deadly and effective when someone comes in wishing to harm children. We need to be able to count on localized solutions for when everything else fails. We need to arm teachers and give children the security necessary to ensure their protection.
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By Manuel Martin | United States
Politicians and the government currently have a monopoly on education. This allows them to change the past, control the present, and design the future. We are failing our youth by giving politicians (of all people) a monopoly on our children’s evolving minds. To submit the youth to political education is to ignore the reality that politicians have zero interest in teaching a social values system based on human respect and peaceful persuasion. Rather, the basis of their influence is founded upon controlling citizens through the social values of coercion reinforced with gun violence. After all, politicians ultimately reinforce all directives with violence. Education, without a doubt, works no differently.
If there was ever a sector of the economy that should be subject to the customer satisfaction free enterprise system (and liberated from political coercion), it’s education. Our youth deserve teachers, administrators, and business professionals focused on customer satisfaction instead of bureaucrats following political directives.
Libertarians want to end the government’s involvement in education. First and foremost, this is because our youth deserve better than teachers giving them (even if subliminally) a social values system of coercion over persuasion and collectivism over individual human respect.
Freedom of Education
Educational freedom will liberate entrepreneurs from political restrictions. This will indubitably result in a diversity of educational options. Moreover, parents will be free to choose a school that fits their child’s personality.
If your child is rowdy, bursting with energy and loves to play, there will be a school for your child. The school may offer two or three hours of recess, or other activities to suit your child’s needs. Is your child a baseball or soccer protégé? Well, there may also evolve schools designed to cultivate your child’s athletic potential. If your child is inclined to entrepreneurship, there may evolve schools designed to help your child become a business tycoon. If your child has artistic inclinations, schools will evolve to help your child become a professional artist. Freedom in education will give parents the ability to shop for a school tailored to their child’s personality, instead of shopping by zip code.
The great paradox in our current educational system is that politicians believe their educational mandates promote fairness. However, there is nothing fair about forcing youth into a one-size-fits-all monopolistic system. In fact, this system which promotes inequality, as the students who do well in the government method will outperform other students who may perform well using other methods. Students who aren’t receptive to the sit down for 7 hours and listen to a lecturer method have no choice but to underperform. After all, the government forces them into this system that does not cater to their personality.
Multiple Learning Methods
Let’s assume there are five different learning methods teachers can use to teach children. In reality, there are infinitely many more. Regardless, America’s “Prussian lecture system” is just one, but students who may do well with other method are often labeled as dumb, lazy, ADHD, or other insults by the system. These same children may excel in an interactive, seminar-based, or outdoor system, instead.
Our young are caged into a one-size-fits-all system where they are denied the opportunity to learn according to their personality. How receptive to learning would you be if your instruction did not align with your learning style?
What if politicians regulated the automobile industry in the same way they standardize education? They could, for example, mandate that companies can only sell vehicles with two doors and a four-cylinder engine. Would you be okay with this limitation on your freedom to choose products that entrepreneurs made to meet your needs? I’m guessing not, as you may want the option of a V6, V8, SUV, four doors, or perhaps a truck. Most recognize the benefits of competition for their automobile needs, yet most don’t make the connection that students are being denied the benefit of market competition.
Politicians are stripping entrepreneurs of the ability to provide parents the freedom to choose an educational model that suits their child’s personality. This is a disgrace that history will look back on as barbaric.
Ending government’s involvement in education will not only free parents and children from monopoly control, but also free young adults wishing to start their professional careers.
Want to be a lawyer? Have you ever asked yourself why can’t you just start law school at 14, 15 or 16 years old? Or, why do you have to go to law school in the first place? Why do you have to pass a coercively mandated state bar exam? Why can’t you just study law, start a law practice, and allow your customer results to publically prove your industry knowledge? Your customer results, not a government certificate, are proof of the value which you generate for others.
Want to be a chiropractor? Political mandates dictate that you must sacrifice four years of your life earning a bachelor’s degree before you are “free” to learn from doctors wishing to teach you chiropractic medicine. Think about that for a second; we live in a time when a group of individuals is forcing those who wish to learn medicine (and help others), to sacrifice four years of their life earning an unnecessary degree. Are those your values? Do you honestly believe one person should have the ability to control four years of another?
Libertarianism is true compassion, compassion to give people human respect to design their own lives. In a libertarian culture, you could apprentice under your local chiropractor for a year or two. Once the local chiropractor thinks you’re ready to go on your own, he will certify your abilities. In his community, his reputation will be enough to certify your abilities and gain you customers. If you try to go outside his local community, then his certification may not carry much weight. As a result, you may need to go to a traditional chiropractic school. Or, you may have to develop a positive reputation and customer reviews through regulating channels (like Yelp), which allow you to move outside his community.
Traditional Chiropractic schools will, of course, still exist. But, there is no reason to think it would take ten years to become proficient in chiropractic medicine (or regular medicine). The curriculum may take two, three, or four years.
A World of Possibility
The vibrancy of free markets will lead to an unlimited amount of educational models meeting the varying needs of educational consumers. True progress is lifting political chains and freeing people to meet the educational needs of our next generation. Progress is not forcing individuals into a uniform system denying entrepreneurs the freedom to teach according to a student’s dynamic personality. Our youth and young professionals deserve the human respect to be free of the educational monopoly.
Here is a plan that can act as a blueprint for how to dismantle the governmental educational complex. An assumption here is that we have evolved our culture to the progressive libertarian ethical standard and are working to efficiently and virtuously dismantle federal and state governments. Moreover, I assume that first, society has eliminated the income tax and replaced it with a sales tax. Lastly, I assume that educational spending does not have a sales tax on it.
The Libertarian Educational Plan
Step One: Eliminate compulsory education laws. If a young adult feels they would rather spend their time working than sitting in class, they should have the human respect to make that decision.
Step Two: Eliminate all federal and state laws and regulations that limit the creation of new schools. Entrepreneurs should be free to build as many schools as they need to meet market demands.
Step Three: Eliminate curriculum standards. How much English, math, Spanish, or geometry is necessary should be up to parents, entrepreneurs, and market competition to decide. The State should have no say in the matter.
Step Four: Transition all federal government spending on education to a voucher system. Parents, in this system, choose the school, and the school cashes the voucher. Vouchers will be in place for two years, after which they go away and schools will (like every other private sector business) stay afloat by attracting voluntarily paying customers.
Step Five: Eliminate all mandates on professional certifications. To clarify, colleges that teach professions such as law, medicine, and engineering will still exist. Without a doubt, there is clear market demand. On the other hand, we are simply getting rid of government involvement. For example, if someone is 17 years of age wanting to study medicine and there is a medical school willing to teach him, he can go to that school, regardless if he has a bachelor’s degree or not. Schools will be free to design the length of their curriculum. Does med school really need to be ten years in length, or can one complete it in five? Who knows? After all, there isn’t a free market competing to meet the needs of educational customers.
Also, aspiring professionals can apprentice under other professionals, either to gain experience and increase one’s chances of getting into professional schools or to start their own profession.
These reforms will result is an educational system that meets the needs of all educational consumers for all income levels. With the market free to build schools, the income tax eliminated, colleges free to educate as they see fit and with the two-year voucher system directing money to the schools which are most efficient, the market will be ready to meet the needs of educational consumers without political influence.
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By T. Fair | United States
Schools across America, and perhaps other countries, are questionably left-leaning in their educators, staff and even curriculum. It may differ based on area, but statistically, the majority of educators are Democrats. One source, Verdant Labs, cites the Federal Election Commission in a breakdown of teachers’ political party affiliations. However, it only lists how many are Democrats compared to how many are Republicans.
As for the type of school, there are 74 democratic pre-school teachers for every 26 Republican pre-school teachers, 85 Democrats to 15 Republicans in elementary school, and 87 Democrats to 13 Republicans in high school.
The least democratic type of teacher was a music teacher. But still, Democrats outnumber by a rate of 69 to 31. Health educators were most strongly Democrat, with 99 to every one Republican. Math and science split the difference, at 85 to 15 and 87 to 13, respectively. Clearly, our educators lean left.
Does this mean that education itself is biased? Before delving deeper into all of the stories across the nation of specific schools having a strong left-wing bias, I interviewed a number of teachers and staff members about the issue.
A California principal and vice principal agreed that there is political bias on school campuses. When I asked them which side they thought the bias was on, for the most part, they both answered that they thought in general, it was pretty balanced, and that it depended on the area. I then asked them what they thought brought out a political bias in educators, and they both responded with an answer along the same lines:
“It’s because we teach who we are. Teachers are still human, and with a job where you’re constantly talking to other people, it’s kind of hard not to bring out yourself a bit, and what your own personal views are.” Although this wasn’t exactly what I was getting at, this was useful information all the same
Next, I asked a school librarian. She also agreed there were forms of political bias on campuses around America, having the idea that it was dominantly left. However, she had a different take on the reasons for this. When questioned, she stated that teachers need to be open-minded, and people on the left are a lot more open-minded, typically.
Another woman I interviewed, who actually claimed to be registered as an independent who had libertarian leanings, immediately responded that there was a strong left-wing bias, especially in some classrooms she’s been around. This included her school of employment as well as a nationwide trend.
So, we’ve heard the opinions of teachers from asking them directly. What else could be the cause? I strongly agree with the statement “we teach who we are”, but what makes the teachers who they are exactly?
One argument I’ve both heard frequently and thought about and agreed with myself is that people on the left are typically more interested in trying to help others, and not as interested in pay. Teaching is a job that is both “dedicated to helping others” and does not always pay well. As the left is less focused on the free market, this could be a possible factor. The average public school teacher salary for the 2017-2018 school year was $60,483, according to the National Education Association. This is slightly below the 2017 Median household income at $61,372.
Another possible argument is that Democrats are more interested in paying schools more. A poll from Education Next states that only 33% of Republicans wish to increase spending on public schools, while 58% of Democrats wish to increase spending. The Democratic Party platform itself says “Democrats want every child – no matter their zip code – to have access to a quality public K-12 education.” This indicates that Democrats are strongly in favor of the public schools that these teachers are working at. Republicans, though, often support the government having less influence on education.
It simply would make sense that a school that is run by the government would advocate for more government. This is not to say that Republicans legitimately advocate for a smaller or better government. Despite this, Democrats generally give greater support for public schools. One passage of an article by The College Fix sums this view up well:
“It’s no surprise that a system that is state-funded and state-run advocates for a bigger government. The public school system is a microcosm of the socialist system, one that is bureaucratic, wasteful, and does not serve its original and intended purpose. Education is the cornerstone of Western society, a place where our youth are taught to think broadly and to develop their own unique worldview. Instead, we are often taught what to believe instead of how to think.”
Whether you’re a student that’s with the left or not, it is important to keep an open and free-thinking mind. Nobody should blindly support a popular idea, whether it is left, right, or anything else.
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Craig Axford | Canada
In a 2013 column published in the Huffington Post entitled Why Public Schools Don’t Teach Critical Thinking, retired high-school teacher Frank Breslin lamented the state of modern American education:
The minds of children need room to breathe, to be inspired by vision, and the health-bringing balm of many perspectives. They need exercise, play, and relaxation; in short, they need a sound body and spirit to have a sound mind. Rather than spending their magical years entombed in cram-school dungeons that prepare them for impossibly difficult tests, children need old-fashioned schools where every day they can learn something new in classrooms that echo with laughter and joy!
Unfortunately, it’s government policy to make sure schools are anything but the kind of places Breslin envisioned for students. By emphasizing standardized testing that evaluates how many predetermined facts a student can memorize rather than their capacity to conduct research and pursue their own lines of inquiry, America has created a citizenry increasingly predisposed to simply accept whatever they read uncritically. Now it is paying dearly for following that path.
At a time when we often bemoan the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on much of anything, it’s worth remembering that the pursuit of standardized testing has been a thoroughly bipartisan undertaking; President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation passed in 2001 with strong bipartisan support. In the speech he delivered before the student’s of Ohio’s Hamilton High School prior to signing the NCLB legislation, President Bush spoke of the importance of “accountability” and made it clear that a strong emphasis on testing was key to determining whether or not schools were meeting expectations:
The first way to solve a problem is to diagnose it. And so, what this bill says, it says every child can learn. And we want to know early, before it’s too late, whether or not a child has a problem in learning. I understand taking tests aren’t fun. Too bad. We need to know in America. We need to know whether or not children have got the basic education.
When President Obama took office, he initially doubled down on standardized testing. He too was, at least at first, clearly convinced that what was needed was a more objective measurement of a student’s knowledge. Though President Obama’s “Race To The Top” initiative did call upon states to “develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity,” it still placed an extremely strong emphasis upon standardization to ensure these goals were being achieved.
However, by 2015, President Obama was doing a mea culpa on standardized testing. He announced the amount of time spent in the classroom preparing for tests should be limited. In one of the more reflective moments of his presidency, Obama stated, “When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test.” He went on to admit that “too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning,” had caused more harm than good.
. . .
We live in a culture that places a high value on efficiency. Understandably, we want the next generation to have a firm grasp on certain basic skills that are essential to any real chance of success in the modern world. Reading, writing, and arithmetic — commonly referred to as “the 3 Rs” — are at the top of the list.
Unfortunately, the mastery of these skills doesn’t guarantee that a student has also learned how to put them to good use. While the United States has achieved a reasonably high literacy rate, increasingly people are using their ability to read and write to kill hours each day on social media rather than becoming informed citizens or otherwise enriching their lives.
According to a study just released by the American Psychological Association, the use of digital media by teens increased dramatically between 2006 and 2016. Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author of the study, states that social media use during leisure hours doubled among high school seniors during that period. Among 10th graders usage increased by 75% while among 8th graders it increased by 68%.
“In the mid-2010s, the average American 12th-grader reported spending approximately two hours a day texting, just over two hours a day on the internet — which included gaming — and just under two hours a day on social media,” Twenge is quoted saying on the science website Science Daily. “That’s a total of about six hours per day on just three digital media activities during their leisure time.”
According to the same Science Daily story, the steep rise in digital media usage has been associated with an even more extreme drop in the use of print media. The article states:
The decline in reading print media was especially steep. In the early 1990s, 33 percent of 10th-graders said they read a newspaper almost every day. By 2016, that number was only 2 percent. In the late 1970s, 60 percent of 12th-graders said they read a book or magazine almost every day; by 2016, only 16 percent did. Twelfth-graders also reported reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976, and approximately one-third did not read a book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.
Perhaps these trends wouldn’t be nearly as disconcerting if the rise in digital media use and the associated decline in the use of printed material wasn’t also coming at a time when so many members of the same generation were exhibiting such difficulty discerning between reliable news stories and “fake” news.
In a study coincidentally released just two weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Stanford University researchers reported students at all levels exhibited extremely poor skills when it came to conducting research and evaluating content online. According to the study’s executive summary, “Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.”
The Stanford study involved 7,804 subjects from middle school through university age. The sample comprised students from 12 states, including students from elite universities that rejected over 90% of their applicants and public institutions with high acceptance rates. Students were given age-appropriate problems to evaluate and research online including reasons to doubt the accuracy of content, assessing evidence, and verification of various claims. The results were not encouraging.
The Stanford team’s assessment of middle schoolers found that “More than 80% of students believed that the native advertisement, identified by the words ‘sponsored content,’ was a real news story.” Among high school students shown a post entitled “Fukushima Nuclear Flowers” with a picture of what appear to be white daisies exhibiting what were alleged to be various “birth defects,” the students “ignored key details, such as the source of the photo. Less than 20% of students constructed ‘mastery’ responses, or responses that questioned the source of the post or the source of the photo. On the other hand, nearly 40% of students argued that the post provided strong evidence because it presented pictorial evidence about conditions near the power plant.” The caption gave no indication where the photo was actually taken.
University undergrads from three different universities were shown a tweet announcing “new polling” on NRA members’ views on background checks for potential gun purchasers. According to the Stanford study, “Results indicated that students struggled to evaluate tweets. Only a few students noted that the tweet was based on a poll conducted by a professional polling firm and explained why this would make the tweet a stronger source of information.” Only a third of the students paid any attention to the agendas of MoveOn.org or the Center for American Progress and how that might influence the content.
When it came to undergraduate students, researchers also noted “An interesting trend that emerged” from their tests. Over 50% of “students failed to click on the link provided within the tweet.” In addition, “Some of these students did not click on any links and simply scrolled up and down within the tweet.” Others tried to investigate, but searched using the CAP acronym for the Center for American Progress provided in the tweet. This type of search “did not produce useful information.”
. . .
The use of fake news to influence the election of 2016, reveals it isn’t just our young adults that lack the skills to detect and resist misinformation. Many of their parents and grandparents also lack the critical thinking and research skills necessary to place information in context and separate the wheat from the chaff. In many respects, the most troubling aspect of this problem isn’t our apparent gullibility but our ongoing refusal to do much if anything about it.
The focus on standardized testing is a symptom of an education system literally designed to teach students what to think rather than how to think. Memorization, not research skills and hands-on learning, became even more of a focus as successive governments drank the testing Kool-Aid. Time-consuming experiments or other projects were dropped to make room for lessons that drilled the right answers into students. Arts programs that fostered creativity and instilled an appreciation for culture were cut or eliminated altogether in the name of efficiency. Our schools became factories that mimicked the routinized schedules of the workplace while denying students the chance to ask questions, challenge the ideas being presented to them, and figure things out for themselves.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A recent episode of the BBC World Service podcast The Documentary highlighted work being done to determine the best approaches for instilling in children a basic grasp of what qualifies as evidence and the importance of understanding the basis of the claims they will inevitably hear from salesmen, politicians, and even family members over the course of their lives. The program, entitled You Can Handle The Truth, doesn’t just reveal how successful such efforts can be but how much delight children actually take in learning how to unmask poorly supported assertions and outright falsehoods.
The program’s host, the British statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter, traveled to Uganda to see the results of these efforts for himself. Researchers and educators in that country had been working with a Norwegian team on educational materials designed to teach elementary age students how to make more informed health choices.
The young Ugandan students were given a comic book that depicted individuals confronting a number of difficult choices. Among the most popular comic book characters is a parrot that, as parrots are known to do, repeats back everything it hears unquestioningly. Over the course of the school year, students discussed the various scenarios described within the book with their teachers and learned the importance of asking those making a claim what the basis for it was and how to better evaluate the answers they heard in response.
The Ugandan program involved 10,000 students from 120 schools. Sixty of the schools were placed in a control group. Students at these institutions received no additional instruction. In the remaining 60 schools, students participated in lessons and activities designed to provide them with basic critical thinking skills. At the end of the year, students from all 120 schools were tested and the differences between the control group and the test group assessed.
The results of that testing revealed the program had produced the desired effect and in a big way. All students were given 24 problems to solve or evaluate. Thirteen right answers were considered a passing grade. The 24 questions presented to students on the test were unique and had not been problems considered as part of the critical thinking curriculum.
In the control group, 27% of the students passed the test. In the intervention group, 69% received a passing score. Even teachers in the two groups were tested. Among the control group’s teachers, 87% passed, while the intervention group saw 98% of the teachers get a passing grade.
One of the problems the researchers anticipated but never encountered is one that will likely sound familiar to Americans; parents becoming upset as their children begin coming home from school with tough questions about cherished beliefs and cultural practices. Uganda is a country with a rich history of folk remedies and superstition. Researchers feared that having children go off to school in the morning happily accepting particular family or cultural traditions only to return in the evening wondering about the basis for the claims surrounding grandma’s famous herbal remedy could turn parents against their efforts.
However, Ugandan parents, at least so far, haven’t made a fuss. Their children are excited to be learning and take delight in being empowered to question their elders about things that have been taken for granted for generations. To everyone’s surprise, parents and other family members don’t seem to mind.
Sir David Spiegelhalter also took a trip to California for his BBC program. That state is currently considering legislation that will mandate media literacy education. Spiegelhalter paid a visit to one California classroom where students were asked to research various theories into who or what sank the Battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor on February 15, 1898. The sinking of the Maine ultimately led the United States into a war with Spain.
American parents aren’t likely to get too upset if their children conclude an American battleship that sank over 100 years ago went down due to an accident instead of a Spanish mine as was widely assumed at the time, but it’s hard to imagine many of them remaining silent when it comes to climate change, evolution, vaccines, or race relations. They haven’t so far. In just the past year Mark Twain and Harper Lee were targeted by the school board in Duluth, Minnesota because their books contained language that might make students feel “humiliated or marginalized.”
One of the appeals of the reading, writing, and arithmetic mantra is that learning these skills, at least in theory, doesn’t require teachers to raise too many questions or address contemporary controversies. Once a kid has the capacity to read, it’s just assumed they will figure it all out for themselves as an adult when and if they choose to. But learning to read is about more than just memorizing the alphabet and passing a spelling test. It’s about knowing how to think too.
The California media literacy bill failed on its first attempt in 2017, but it’s back again this year. If it passes, implementation will certainly be carefully watched to see what kind of impact it has on students being thrown into the sea of digital technologies we’ve created. Will they sink or swim? One thing is certain, however; it increasingly appears as though everything is riding upon their capacity to keep their heads above water.
In the August 27 issue of the New York Times, the author Thomas Chatterton Williams reviews two new books hitting the shelves: The Splintering of the American Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind. As the titles suggest, their authors rue the polarization, hypersensitivity, and inability to cope with controversies that now grips Americans right across the political spectrum.
But what got my attention wasn’t Williams assessment of these newly published works so much as the closing paragraph of his review. It was clearly more about us than it was either of the books he had just shared his thoughts on. Williams concludes:
What both of these books make clear from a variety of angles is that if we are going to beat back the regressive populism, mendacity and hyperpolarization in which we are currently mired, we are going to need an educated citizenry fluent in a wise and universal liberalism. This liberalism will neither play down nor fetishize identity grievances, but look instead for a common and generous language to build on who we are more broadly, and to conceive more boldly what we might be able to accomplish in concert. Yet as the tenuousness of even our most noble and seemingly durable civil rights gains grows more apparent by the news cycle, we must also reckon with the possibility that a full healing may forever lie on the horizon. And so we will need citizens who are able to find ways to move on despite this, without letting their discomfort traumatize or consume them. If the American university is not the space to cultivate this strong and supple liberalism, then we are in deep and lasting trouble.”
The anti-democratic forces that are currently so vocal in the United States would no doubt frame the kind of educational goals Williams identifies as some sort of conspiracy to destroy their movement and they would be right. They will claim that any attempt to instill in children critical thinking skills and an understanding of the nation’s history, laws, and aspirations are biased because these efforts fail to treat their own anti-intellectual, unscientific, and undemocratic points of view as worthy of equal of time. Again, they will be correct.
Freedom of speech means everyone gets to express themselves. However, it does not mean that every idea deserves equal press coverage or even any press coverage at all. Thinking is hard work precisely because it requires us to critically evaluate the concepts we’re exposed to. It determines not only what is and isn’t worthy of our time and attention but which ideas have the potential to either threaten or enrich our lives and those of our fellow citizens. There are sound methods for making these determinations that have proven themselves over and over again, but they can’t do us any good if we refuse to learn them.
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