Once again Leonard Pitts' column in the Sept. 27 Empire ("Time to move the fringes off center stage") is right on the money. Thanks to the media's need to attract sufficient viewers to satisfy the advertisers who support them, they have given stage center to a significant minority of extremists who are publicly babbling inane, angry, bigoted drivel, which has no foundation in fact. The general public has neither the time nor the inclination to fact check this pseudo-political debate and often simply believes "what they heard on the news."
In protest to this Jon Stewart of the "Daily Show" is conducting a rally in Washington, D.C. to take a stand for a return to reasonableness. Thank you Jon and thank you Leonard. However, that still leaves us with what to do about this problem in the long run. I suggest a solution lies within our public education system.
Two basic changes in our schools would directly address this problem. First, teach critical thinking at all grade levels. This is not actually difficult to do. Recently I did a bit of research and was not surprised to learn at every grade level in classrooms all across the country the average amount of available classroom airtime that the teacher is talking is 85 percent. The other 15 percent is what remains for all the students in the class. This should be directly reversed. When students answer questions or engage in class discussion, the teacher needs to respond with "And tell us how you arrived at that answer. What were the steps you took in your mind to reach that conclusion?" This will allow each student's thinking process to be ,frequently articulated aloud giving the student, the teacher, and the other students an opportunity to examine, evaluate and, as necessary, rectify that thinking process. Wrong answers and right answers both need to be addressed in this fashion. Whether the answer is right or wrong is far less important than looking at how it was reached. Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind has actively fed our addiction to right answers and test taking. Notice neither the crazies to whom the media has given center stage nor our Congress are taking tests these days. Critical thinking should trump memorization of facts in school rather than the other way around.
Second, students need regular input into the rules and regulations by which they must live in school. That is the very essence of democracy! The notion children should attend 13 years of public school with virtually no input into the system to which they must comply, and then be expected to suddenly become active citizens involved the community and country in which they live is untenable. They need meaningful input into what the rules are, how they were developed and why, how they are enforced, what happens if they are broken, and the procedure for changing those rules as necessary. They need their own student courts to administer and enforce such rules. They need adult teachers, counselors, and administrators to advise them and, as necessary exercise veto power over their decisions.
These two changes would turn out graduates well versed in social responsibility and who would regularly employ critical thinking as one of the tools with which they managed their community and their lives.
Dillon is a retired educator, psychotherapist, organization consultant, enthusiastic advocate of public education. He lives in Juneau.
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