Although by now the political climate of America is very forcibly divided, there remains one spark of hope-one area which has been passed down as sacred from generation to generation: the future. The children, it is said, are that future, and it is with them that humanity rests. But are we giving the future the skills it needs to survive?
In a time of information overload, young people are hard pressed to find a single skill set which enables them to navigate not only the political arena, but those which hit closer-to-home, such as healthcare, finances and the ever important education. As many of you well know, student loans are something I rant about rather frequently, the dangers of which remain quite unknown for many people from my parent’s generation. But I digress. The skill set most vital to each upcoming individual, in every generation is one that is in a recession all its own: critical thinking.
As a human being, in a much broader, globalized culture, critical thinking means the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate information (being able to determine fact from crap, essentially).
But Michelle-that sounds like you just criticized your own age group. What are you doing?
Pointing out a concern of mine in regards to the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. I’ve included a little context, but put the point of focus in bold. In a recent statement at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), Mrs. DeVos said:
“How many of you are college students? The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”
Link to the video: C-Span of Mrs. DeVos’ Speech
What is concerning, therefore, is not the fact that Secretary DeVos is of the opinion that the “fight” extends to college students (because she’s right-we’re at the front lines of a fight which extends far beyond education) but that she believes educators are not educating, but force-feeding their opinions to their students. What’s further troubling is her fixation with othering. Her statement is incredibly biased, in the way it undermines anyone who does not support Donald Trump. That in-and-of-itself is refutes her claim of anti-First Amendment work. You do not have to support the person who fills the role of President of the United States in order to be an American, with all of the associated rights. To have someone in an educational leadership position not be entirely educated on the core values of the country is terrifying. And it is for these reasons that colleges (students and educators) MUST be at the front of the fight.
While I am quite capable of passing along my opinion, I thought that perhaps it would be more prudent to provide the thoughtful discourse of a professor. In an email (which I have attained permission to reproduce), Professor Michael Phelan, Linguistics Department at The Ohio State University gave the following statement:
I have been teaching in public schools of various levels [for 14 years]. In all of that time I have never heard comments such as these from someone in a position of educational leadership; I am aghast and astounded.
Education is about two things: Getting you to ask deep, meaningful, interesting questions about yourselves, your neighbors, and the world around you, and training you to answer those questions. Good educators do not let you rest with *any* set of answers. Good educators probe deeper, asking you to consider how you know what you think you know, if there are special cases or more general formulations of your answers, if it is reasonable that other people in other circumstances may find different sets of answers to be more useful. The hallmark of really answering any scientific question is that your answer leads to more good questions, not fewer. Good educators force you to strongly consider the possibility that you might be wrong, and that your teachers might be wrong too. I firmly believe that if you somehow get through four years of university education without having had your deepest beliefs challenged you should ask for your money back.
Good education is not a systematic indoctrination to try to force you to think the way your teachers think. There are systems of thought and custom where that is the case, but education is not one of them. If you believe everything I believe, and your generation believes everything my generation believes, then we as a species have wasted all the years between because we haven’t learned anything new. But if either of us cannot back up our beliefs with rigorous argument and objective evidence, we are only fooling ourselves.
In the coming weeks, we will discuss issues related to language ideology, bilingualism, and the way that attitudes about people affect our attitudes about their language. We will discuss how the way we talk about political issues can strongly influence our beliefs about those issues, and we will use concrete examples including controversial topics like marriage equality, abortion, and physician assisted suicide. I have strong political beliefs, as doubtless many of you do too. We will keep the debate focused around the language used to talk about these issues because language processing is the point of the course, but it is important to know that we can have that debate respectfully, regardless of where we each come from politically.
Secretary DeVos said, “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.” I think she got her question words wrong. The faculty and staff at OSU and at any university worth the name don’t teach you what to do, say, or think. We teach you how to do things, how to say things, and more importantly, how to think clearly, deeply, and critically.
It is with this email that I leave you with the following quote.
Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.
You are valid. You have worth. You are irreplaceable. You are enough.