The world is so plagued by contradictions right now that I sometimes find myself quietly mouthing the opening sentences of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (and I bet I’m not alone in this admission). In terms of safety, health, opportunity, and prosperity, there has never been a better time in human history, but hardly anyone living anywhere is celebrating. Barack Obama sold “hope” on his march to power, but Black Lives Matter and Antifa preach only despair at every turn. An American government invested in projecting strength abroad stokes fear at home. It has never been easier to acquire knowhow of almost any kind, yet ignorance runs amok. How is this even possible when humans have never had greater access to information?
Before the printing press revolutionized mass communication in the mid-fifteenth century, nobody owned books. They were prohibitively expensive secret stores of knowledge possessed by a tiny percentage of monastic scribes and wealthy elites (many of whom were illiterate themselves). Within fifty years of Gutenberg’s invention, more books were produced than during the previous thousand years. Still, just two hundred years ago, almost ninety percent of the world couldn’t even read or write. Now almost ninety percent of the world is literate, and most of us walk around with little computers in our pockets that, along with an internet connection, allow us to retrieve almost every word that has ever been written about almost anything. If knowledge is priceless, and almost anyone can now scoop it up with the tap of a screen, we live in the golden age of universal wealth.
Then I take a quick look at Facebook or Twitter and remember that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. For every person interested in gold, there seem to be a thousand just fine with pyrite. And that lack of discernment is crucial to producing a society surrounded by answers yet in possession of few.
There is no problem in the United States that could not be solved if we were still a nation of critical thinkers. But critical thinking has been intentionally replaced by dogma. Having a degree is not equivalent to having an education. Knowing something is not the same as understanding it. In a world saturated with information, the “key” to distinguishing between truth and falsehood is one question, one word: “why?”
Why should schools and companies discriminate based on skin color? Why should my race say more about me than my brain? Why is it okay for federal immigration law to be ignored while federal tax laws must be obeyed? Why are Americans who defend the Constitution treated as domestic terrorists? Why are Americans who burn down cities treated as heroes? Why does every “solution” to climate change involve the expansion of government powers and the contraction of personal liberties? Why must the government police speech in order to keep it free? Why must government disarm citizens in order to keep them safe? Why is the government so afraid of the people that it must spy on them at all times? Why is it no longer “our government,” but rather the government?
Are those questions dangerous in a “free” society? Of course not. They lead to discussion, which leads to debate, which leads to contemplation, which leads to greater understanding, which creates a more perceptive mind, a more capable American, and a more complete human being. When government deems some questions subversive, it is admitting that it no longer represents the people, but rather rules over them. And any public school system that replaces the tools necessary for developing critical thinking skills with rigid indoctrination countenancing no dissent is producing not healthy citizens, but useful slaves.
The great philosopher George Carlin used to say, “Don’t just teach your children to read[.] … Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.” That’s how real learning is done — in the trenches with one hand on a flashlight searching for knowledge and the other gripping a shovel, digging up the oft-buried truth. Carlin also knew that when it comes to truth, governments cannot be trusted: “I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me.” If more Americans could learn this simple principle, our society would be in a much better place. Free people with free minds do not need politicians to do their thinking for them.
But thinking critically takes effort. It takes work. It cannot be done overnight.
There’s a terrific movie called Greater that tells the inspirational story of Arkansas Razorbacks offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth, whom some justifiably call the greatest walk-on in the history of college football. In one scene, his high school football coach is stressing the value of hard work by teaching his players that they cannot control how they came into this world, but control completely how they will go out. “Sow with thought, you reap in action. Sow with action, you reap a habit. You sow a habit, you reap a character. You sow a character, you reap a destiny.”
Notice how at odds these words are to current educational malpractice and, in particular, Critical Race Theory? Working hard and thinking critically strengthen the individual. Seeing “systemic racism” hiding behind every corner provides an excuse for individual weakness. Sowing racial division produces hate. Sowing blame denies any chance for personal growth. Sowing grievance distracts from goals of greatness. And by denying that individual responsibility leads to happiness, schools no longer interested in teaching students how to learn destroy their students’ destinies. “Every place starts with a cadence, and ends with a whistle. What you do in between, determines your legacy.” Schools in the business of replacing critical thinking with Critical Race Theory are in the business of killing legacies.
The science is settled? The time for debate is over? Never. Only people interested in stealing your agency and capturing your soul say such things. It is our capacity for reason that makes each of us distinct and our distinctive qualities that make each human life individually valuable. When government deems individual minds unnecessary, then individual lives become disposable. That’s when governments do great evil.
Anyone just repeating what he’s told is a mimic, not a thinker. There are plenty of power and money in mimicry. Toeing the line and questioning nothing can be well rewarding in this life. But a mimic does not think for himself. He is a puppet, speaking someone else’s words with someone else’s hand holding him up from behind. A thinker stands on his own feet because he knows why he believes what he believes. A mimic only serves those in power; a thinker possesses power all his own.
So fight back. Think critically. Teach others to think critically. And question everything.
Image via Pickpik.
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