Blog Post: [Part 3] The Critical Thinking Movement in Historical Perspective

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May 20, 2022 • 86d ago
[Part 3] The Critical Thinking Movement in Historical Perspective

{"ops":[{"insert":"Missed Part 2? "},{"attributes":{"underline":true,"bold":true,"link":""},"insert":"Read It Here"},{"insert":"]\n\nIn 1860 the average North American spent little more than a year in school, and by 1900 spent little more than 2 years. In 1880, 17 percent of the population still could not read or write. Increasingly in this time period the question of empire was before the public and the electorate was expected to decide, for example, whether or not it was justifiable to “rule a people without their consent”. Those, like Senator Beveridge, who favored imperialism, as did the majority of voters, easily formulated a logic whose fallaciousness as not penetrated by the voting majority:\n \nThe opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer: The rule of liberty, that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies only to those who are capable of self-government. I answer: We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent . . . Shall we save them . . . to give them a self-rule of tragedy? It would be like giving a razor to a babe and telling it to shave itself. It would be like giving a typewriter to an Eskimo and telling him to publish one of the great dailies of the world. (US Senator Albert Beveridge, 1899.)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nSenator Beveridge could link, without fear of significant dissent from an electorate of thinking people, the voice of liberty, Christ’s gospel, and our profit:\n \nAh! as [sic] our commerce spreads, the flag of liberty will circle the globe and the highways of the ocean – carrying trade to all mankind – will be guarded by the guns of the republic. And, as their thunders salute the flag, the benighted peoples will know that the voice of liberty is speaking, at last for them; that civilization is dawning, at last, for them, - liberty and civilization, those children of Christ’s gospel, who follow and never precede the preparing march of commerce. It is the tide of God’s great purposes made manifest in the instincts of our race, whose present phase is our personal profit, but whose far-off end is the redemption of the world and the Christianization of mankind."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nIt should be no surprise therefore that William Graham Sumner, one of the founding fathers of anthropology, was appalled by the manner in which history was taught and the level of uncritical thinking that followed it:\n \nThe examination papers show the pet ideas of the examiners . . . An orthodoxy is produced in regard to all the great doctrines of life. It consists in the most worn and commonplace opinions . . . It is intensely provincial and philistine . . . (containing) broad fallacies, half-truths, and glib generalizations. (We are given) . . . orthodox history . . . (so) . . . that children shall be taught just that one thing which is “right” in the view and interest of those in control and nothing else . . . “Patriotic” history . . . never can train children to criticism. ("},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Folkways"},{"insert":", 1906)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nHigher education was little better. It began in the 17"},{"attributes":{"script":"super"},"insert":"th"},{"insert":" and 18"},{"attributes":{"script":"super"},"insert":"th"},{"insert":" centuries in primarily upper class “seminaries”, providing a classical education though not, of course, in the Socratic sense. Students were drilled in Latin and Greek and Theology. Inculcation, memorization, repetition, and forensic display were the order of the day. Not until the latter half of the 19"},{"attributes":{"script":"super"},"insert":"th"},{"insert":" Century was higher education possible for someone not in the upper class, and then only at the new Land Grant Colleges (150 new colleges opened between 1880 and 1900), established to promote “education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and progressions in life”. Their emphasis was “agriculture and the mechanic arts”. Students graduated with an agricultural, commercial, technical, industrial, scientific, professional, or theological focus. Higher education turned out graduates fit to enter farms, businesses, professions, and the clergy. Their “civic” education was not fundamentally liberal but nationalistic, not fundamentally emancipatory but provincial.\n \nThe history of teaching fits into this picture like a perfectly carves puzzle piece. In the early days teachers were selected from those who had no other job and could read, write, and cipher. From the start teaching was a low prestige, low paying job. Normal schools did not begin springing up until after 1830, and then their curriculum mainly consisted of a review of the subjects taught in elementary school, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and spelling. Eventually, and in the spirit of industrialism, science, and technology, education – still conceived fully within the traditional U.S. world view – came to be considered, and is still largely considered, a “science” of methods of “delivery”. At no point along the way, even to this day, were, or are, prospective teachers expected to demonstrate their ability to lead a discussion Socratically, so that, for example, students explore the evidence that can be advanced for or against their beliefs, note the assumptions upon which they are based, their implications for, or consistency with, other espoused beliefs. Neither were, or are, they expected to demonstrate ability to think analytically or critically about the issues of the day. The state of affairs (circa 1920-35) is satirically suggested by H.L. Mencken:\n \nThe art of pedagogics becomes a sort of puerile magic, a thing of preposterous secrets, a grotesque compound of false premises and illogical conclusions. Every year sees a craze for some new solution of the teaching enigma, an endless series of flamboyant arcana. The worst extravagances of "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"private dozent"},{"insert":" experimental psychology are gravely seized upon; the uplift pours in its ineffable principles and discoveries; mathematical formulae are marked out for every emergency; there is no sure-cure so idiotic that some superintendent of schools will not swallow it. The aim seems to be to reduce the whole teaching process to a sort of automatic reaction, to discover some master formula that will not only take the place of competence and resourcefulness in the teacher but that will also create an artificial receptivity in the child. Teaching becomes a think in itself, separable from and superior to the thing taught. Its mastery is a special business, a sort of transcendental high jumping. A teacher well grounded in it can teach anything to any child, just as a sound dentist can pull any tooth out of any jaw. (Baltimore Sun, 1923)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"}]}

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