by B. Keller

Get on any train, or bus, or walk any street and you’ll see most of the people looking at their cellphone screens, and I’d argue that most of them are tweeting or emailing, and I’d argue that most of those tweets and emails are mundane, inane, irrelevant, mindless, shoot-from-the-hip-without any thought fifty or sixty character “statements”.

The recent presidential campaign and its accompanying polarization are excellent examples of how tweets and technology have “dumbed us down”. For one thing, nobody speaks to anyone say more- they speak “at” them. This is not only evident in the rise of bullying in which people make horribly mean-spirited statements, with no concern for the rights or feelings of others or the consequences of their tweets, (usually opinion anonymity)- but in the inappropriate, often disrespectful tweets of a certain president-elect.

It is clear to me that for all of the talk about “ critical thinking” and making students “critical thinkers”, there’s not a whole lot of thinking going on. Thinking is not just some magical word, it is a process that must be taught, developed, practiced and honed.

It is a process that is present when students read Hamlet and are asked to why he was right or wrong not to kill Claudius as he kneels, or whether or not George’s actions at the end of “Of Mice and Men” is correct. In many schools the aforementioned pieces of literature, as well as other pieces of literature that challenge students to think and take a stand and defend it, are not taught. They have been replaced instead with assignments that do not compel students to take one side or another and defend their sides with evidence from those pieces of literature.

When I listen to members of congress other people who dissent with people who don’t see the world the way they do but who cannot defend their disagreement with facts or evidence, or when I listen to students tell teachers the grade they received was unfair but cannot provide any proof that the grade should have been different, it’s clear that the thinking process is not being taught, (and even if it is, it’s not being taught successfully).

I teach students not to just yell at the tops of their voices and claim they are right, but to be able to prove what they are saying is true, using verifiable evidence and facts to support their points, as opposed to just throwing out their feelings and opinions or relying on “Fake News”.

If we are to maintain a working democracy, one that will create citizens who can think and analyze, not just hear and accept, we are going to have to bring thinking back, and I’d argue that needs to happen in a hurry.