Critical thinking requires courage

Letters to the editor

Posted: Monday, March 31, 2003

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My Turn: Another contemporary fable

Richard Schmitz's recent characterization of liberal arts college faculty as "Bad Fairies" (My Turn, March 30) begs a response. As one of these so-called "Bad Fairies" myself, I might be able to shed a ray of light on one of the goals of a liberal arts education, a goal that is sometimes feared and misunderstood. That goal is critical thinking. This is not thinking that is by nature negative; it is thinking that attempts to close in on truth.

Functioning critical thinkers are charged with the responsibility to ask questions. This can be frightening because the answers may not be what we all want to hear, and so critical thinking requires courage.

Critical thinkers are able to recognize issues, which by their very nature are, as Murray Buttner suggests in his My Turn column, like a spinning Yin-Yang symbol, various shades of gray. This gray makes decision-making much more difficult because there is not a clearly right or wrong resolution; rather there are painful dilemmas. Critical thinkers try to persuade by solid logic rather than personal attack.

These thinkers know that the most persuasive arguments and the most difficult decisions must be based on the most truthful and complete information available.

Critical thinking is absolutely essential to a free and democratic society. If liberal arts faculty were to encourage their students to blindly follow a popular line of thinking rather than questioning that line in a search for truth, it would be one of the worst forms of betrayal, both to the individual students and to society as a whole. If that refusal to follow blindly throws liberal arts faculty members into the category of "Bad Fairies," then perhaps we need to redefine "Bad."

Judith G. Andree


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