“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
My last few posts here have discussed critical thinking/rational thinking in the light of the current changed political climate in the UK and USA, but this week I’ve focused on a couple of more concrete examples. Since the beginning of the US Presidential Election campaign we’ve got used to Donald Trump eccentric use of Twitter, but this week has seen a couple of tweets from the President that are particularly interesting :
Whilst the accuracy of both of these tweets has been fairly rapidly questioned, I found the second, in particular, interesting about what it says about the rational thinking both of the President and of the 50,000+ people who have ‘liked’ it on Twitter. Within minutes of that tweet it has been demonstrated that of the 122 Guantanamo detainees who had returned to terrorism after release only 11 had been released during Barack Obama’s Presidency, the remaining 111 had been released by previous Republican President, George W Bush.
Now, what interested me here was the President’s thought process around this tweet. It seems to me that there are a couple of potential explanation:
- The President believes his sources of information i.e BreitBart and Fox News, and doesn’t question their content
- The President is aware that only 11 were released by Obama, but knows that the tweet will reinforce the view of Obama held by his supporters, and thus they will not question the accuracy of the information.
Both of these explanations have serious implications for rational thinking. If the first explanation is correct, it suggests that it’s possible to win the US Presidency without the media literacy we’d expect of an undergraduate student. The second explanation, suggests a highly honed understanding of rational thinking and a deep understanding of ideas like confirmation bias. Whilst explanation No.1 is appealing to those of a liberal mindset, it seems to me that explanation No.2 is much more likely, and much more serious for those interested in critical/rational thinking.
Up until now, the development of thinking skills has been a fairly esoteric discussion limited to those directly interested in education but it now seems more than ever that Roosevelt’s quote that opens this post is vital. Those of us interested in such things can no longer tolerate vague scholarship, as it the very vagueness in the scholarship of critical/rational thinking that can be used against us. I’ll end with a question:
What would you say if the lead administrator of your School/University came to you and said “If you can’t even agree amongst yourselves about what critical thinking is, why am I paying you to teach it ?”