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10 Aug

So, recently a colleague commented on what he (and now I) both consider to be a disturbing trend among our students. More and more, he relayed, his students are coming in with strong opinions about social issues based solely on what they are told at home.  He’s been teaching social sciences for close to twenty years. While it was not unusual in the past for the freshmen to have strong, biased, but unfounded opinions heavily influenced by mommy and daddy, by the time they were seniors they had developed a bit more independent thinking skills and open minds.  Not now; now he routinely sees seniors with a borderline fanatical devotion to their parents’ ideals with no independent thought or study.  Further, those students, despite documented factual evidence, either statistical or video, refuse to even be open to the fact that their position may be wrong.

This is bad.

High school should provide information; but it also is supposed to introduce the student to critical thinking so that the student can form their OWN opinions about important issues, not be clones of mom and dad.  This is particularly troublesome now, because politically it appears we are more divided than ever, and if hardcore Republicans and staunch Democrats are just making more of the same who believe what they were told to just because they WERE told to, things won’t get better any time soon.

I will illustrate. 

I think fascism and white supremacy are bad.  I was told these things are bad when I was in school, but I have also done my homework, and have read articles and watched documentaries and visited places where bad things happened, and as a result have drawn my own conclusions that these things are bad.  I am an American, and I believe that if you do your homework and wish to disagree with me, I will respect you (I probably won’t be friends with you) but respectfully and firmly disagree, and we can both go on with our lives. 

In other words, if you have done your research and come to the conclusion that we should be a socialist country, I’m ok with that.  As long as by “research” it was understood that you studied BOTH sides of the argument, or if necessary ALL sides of the argument, looked at the pros and cons of each, and decided where your heart lay.  Research is not listening to someone wearing a red hat spew hateful rhetoric and agreeing with them, or embracing someone’s “education and health care for all” without understanding who is paying the bill.  If you did your research, than I have no issue with you.  Go rally (peacefully), vote for your  candidate, and we will see how things fall.  That’s one of the foundations upon which this country was built (along with apparently “fast food for all”).

I’m not sure a lot of people are doing that.

Those people who do their research (as I defined above) and then back things like socialism, fascism, or white supremacy seem to be in short supply.  More often than not the those folks seem feed in to a mob mentality from home or extended family.

What I see is one of the following:

  1. People espouse the ideas put into their head by propaganda or forceful family members and friends because they lack the critical thinking skills to question those views and the research skills to find the information they need to form their own opinion.


  • People submit to one side or the other of the social media rhetoric without looking for the other side, just to have a stake in the argument and be on a side.

So how do I combat this?  What am I doing to stem this trend?

In the classroom, I support whatever side is necessary to make sure ALL sides are put out there.  If most of my first period class is pro-immigration reform, I will bring up some facts or opinions that point towards restricting immigration.  But in the next class, if most want to restrict immigration, I will foster the pro-immigration reform to keep the discussion moving.  I will at times pick cadets who are on one side or the other and force them to argue the side opposite their beliefs, in order to give them an appreciation for seeing both sides of the argument.  At all times we are working under the rules that all of us have value, and we can disagree and still respect each other. 

I do this because my job is not to teach an agenda.  If my students want to know how I feel about a particular issue, I will share it with them.  I will preface it with, “these are my thoughts, and you can feel free to disagree, but be able to support your argument.” Some of them do disagree with, and on those days are some of my best classes.

 My job is to get them to think.  My job is to teach them to question the information offered to them, to dig and research and scrounge to find what supports their argument, and to be mature enough to be open-minded when facts may point out flaws in their argument.

Despite popular opinion, at least most of the teachers I work with or have worked with seem to get this; yet they are still accused of “teaching an agenda” because something discussed in the classroom doesn’t align with parental beliefs or what is professed at home. 

Parents, you have a right to share your beliefs with your children.  But you also have an obligation to teach them to support their arguments, and not blindly believe something just because you do.  If they blindly follow you, when you are gone they will find someone else to blindly follow, and that is not good for anyone.

Work with your teachers to help your children learn to THINK.  You will be surprised at what both they and you can learn.

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