We need critical thinkers, not a citizenry that makes snap judgments

This past week has seen some truly terrible and bizarre events rattle the consciousness of Canadians.
St. John's-Ravenscourt teacher Matt Henderson is calling on society to abandon speculation, assumptions, and baseless judgments and bring in a new age of reason. (CBC)

This past week has seen some truly terrible and bizarre events rattle the consciousness of Canadians. 

Firstly, we witnessed not one, but two attacks — in Montreal and Ottawa. And over the weekend we were lambasted with reports that a CBC radio host was fired for unknown reasons and then he himself spoke to sexual allegations on Facebook. Wow.

It seems strange to couple these events together. The ones in Montreal and Ottawa resulted in the death of innocent people while the firing of Jian Ghomeshi is odd and certainly shocking and alarming, if the allegations of abuse are true.

But they are all similar in respect to the conversations, speculation, assumptions, and baseless judgments made. 

These events have Canadians creating arguments around water coolers, at pubs, and even within the media without evidence and reason. 

I have the great pleasure of facilitating a learning community comprised of 30 amazing teachers from all over Manitoba. One Saturday a month we gather at the University of Winnipeg in an attempt to enter into a dialogue about teaching, learning, and the notion of global citizenship.

This past Saturday, our discussion focused heavily on what we call critical thinking, Socratic reasoning, and ethical thinking. 

We read a lot, talked a lot, argued a lot, and shared a great deal about our experience as educators. Much of our conversation focused on ideas of self-examination, the search for meaning, argumentation, and our desire for our students to become curious and dig deep.

We were influenced by Nussbaum, Appiah, Hardt, West, and the like.

Chicken fingers and sound reasoning

One of the analogies that seemed to resurface was how and why we think when purchasing something as benign as chicken fingers (work with me here).

One of our debates investigated the example of someone purchasing chicken fingers at the U of W's Ridell Hall cafeteria.

Someone asked, "can we not simply buy the chicken fingers and eat them? Do we have to look any further than the experience?" As such, do we need to search for meaning through a simple act like purchasing food?

Others, however, argued that even with such a small act, as critical thinkers and global citizens, we need to ask where these chicken fingers come from, what land was exploited or stolen to raise the chickens, which workers were exploited, what was the ecological footprint of the food, how were the chickens raised, etc.

Once you have all the facts, then you can make a reasoned decision with logic and evidence.

The debates I have witnessed related to the attack in Ottawa and with Mr. Ghomeshi have demonstrated a real lack of critical reasoning from all walks of life. Several media outlets, politicians, and members of the public have suggested that the attacks in Ottawa have, as one MP proclaimed, "changed everything."

Others have linked the attacks on Parliament to acts of international terrorism when we simply do not have the evidence.

Similarly, when the preliminary news of Ghomeshi's firing was revealed, many Canadians jumped on social media and began demonstrating their support for the radio host. Following the Toronto Star comments by the editorial staff, Ghomeshi was judged as a criminal despite the fact that we simply do not have all the facts.

Pros and Cons Club

Feeling somewhat annoyed and disheartened on Sunday, I received a text from wife urging me to tune into CBC Radio 1. On air was Rewind with Michael Enright. The program was broadcasting episodes of a program entitled the Pros and Cons Club.​

Rewind with Michael Enright 

I tuned into a specific episode from 1940 from Winnipeg where young people were debating the pros and cons of exams. I was really excited about the topic, for sure, and I was also overjoyed by the discussion these youths were having.

They were trying to create sound arguments with reason. Their peers were attempting to dislodge this logic and create propositions for themselves.

Next up was a wonderful episode where adult debaters were discussing whether or not Canadians are too polite. I felt an overwhelming urge to smile and leap across my living room. Here we had Canadians, only a short 70 years ago, having meaningful debates about relevant issues.

They were trying to formulate complex arguments in a rigorous environment without the distractions of organized competitive school debates.

I dare say that we need to bring such programming back; not only to the radio, but within our schools, pubs, and media outlets. We need a citizenry of critical thinkers if we are to meet the challenges of impending ecological and economic crises.

A society comprised of individuals who come to snap judgments has produced these crises. Here's to a new age of reason and a return of the Pros and Cons Club.

Matt Henderson is a teacher at St. John's-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg. You can find him on Twitter: @henderson204


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