Things We Read Today (39), Thursday

For Whom Is Critical Thinking Critical?

Linda Borg has an article out, today, on an intensive “seminar” teaching critical thinking to students at Providence’s Jorge Alvarez High School:

On Wednesday, [Principal Jesse] Rivers, the new principal of Alvarez High School, one of the state’s lowest-performing high schools, told two dozen seniors why a new class called the Socratic Seminar was important, even though they wouldn’t be tested on the subject, nor would they earn a grade.

“Your competition isn’t the student sitting next to you,” he said. “It’s the student from Barrington who has been doing this kind of thing since they were young. Critical thinking is important. Communicating with others is important.”

Maybe it’s my egalitarian Christian streak, but something strikes me as a little bit inappropriate about presenting this entire course in terms, essentially, of class warfare.  In fairness, of course, one has to take into account the role that Barrington plays in the Rhode Island narrative, and in that context, students from Providence could find worse sources of motivation than out-learning students at one of the highest-performing districts in the state.

But these thoughts were superseded when I looked at the picture of the class.  Every student is a girl.

Linda Borg apparently didn’t find that sufficiently odd to ask the reason (or at least to present the question and answer to her readers), but it surely merits explanation, considering that just about exactly 50% of the school’s students are male.

Principal Rivers tells me that the seminars were designed as “gender specific” before he was on the job.  There is, however, a boys-only seminar.  He says, “We will mix the class in the future under my watch in order to gain a broader perspective.”

I’m tempted to quip: Apparently, one needn’t be a social conservative like me to understand that classes in sex-ed and in critical thinking have quite a bit in common.

Ushering Men Toward Professional Disability

The following is intuitively connected to the above:

I use the masculine pronoun intentionally, because an increasing number of American men have dropped out of the workforce altogether. In 1948, 89 percent of men age 20 and over were in the workforce.

In 2011, 73 percent were. Only a small amount of that change results from an aging population. Jobs have become physically less grueling and economically more rewarding than they were in 1948.

The central concern of Michael Barone’s essay is the explosion of disability payments:

In 1960, some 455,000 workers were receiving disability payments. In 2011, the number was 8,600,000. In 1960, the percentage of the economically active 18-to-64 population receiving disability benefits was 0.65 percent. In 2010, it was 5.6 percent.

Barone emphasizes the increasing proportion of claims that result from “‘mood disorders’ and ‘muscoskeletal’ problems” — which is a way of implying that the claims are dubious:

“It is exceptionally difficult — for all practical purposes, impossible,” writes Eberstadt, “for a medical professional to disprove a patient’s claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain.”

The question that arises is whether men are pursuing career disability because they have been inadequately educated in critical thinking or schools are not wasting resources on boys because they’re proving, as men, that they can already do the math of the United States’ government-driven incentive system.

 So What Are They Thinking About?

While we’re on the subject of critical thinking in public schools, it’s worth highlighting the far-from-unexpected undercurrent of the Obama Administration’s “common core” curriculum for American classrooms, as noted by Stanley Kurtz:

The Common Core forces schools to pare back literature assignments in favor of non-fiction “informational texts.” One of the suggested texts is Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. (The Common Core exemplar includes only the first two sections of the order.) Why has this text been included among the recommended examples? Obviously, because the order appears to give the imprimatur of the federal government to the political gospel of “sustainability” and the crusade against global warming.

Kurtz’s central concern is that the assignment does not address the political context in which President George W. Bush issued that executive order, but the more important point, to my mind, is that “the Common Core’s mandatory substitution of non-fiction for many fiction readings opens the door to a politicized curriculum.”

Literature can be subversive; fiction even more so.  Indeed, the larger philosophical themes inherent in any compelling story can sometimes undermine the more-incidental message of the author’s political bias.

Whatever else they may be, Presidential executive orders tend not to be subversive of the powers who be.

The Roll of the Dice in the RI Judiciary

If I may diverge from the educational theme of this post for a moment, this comment from possible gubernatorial candidate Ernest Almonte really should be noted:

“[The pension lawsuit] is a complex financial and public-policy case — it’s not a slam-dunk,” said Almonte, who is running for governor in 2014. “It’s the equivalent of betting everything on red or black on the roulette wheel. Not negotiating would be imprudent.”

My first thought is that this says quite a bit about the state of the law in Rhode Island — in terms of the practices of both those who interpret the law and those who write it.

But then I think of the generally held view among my center-right friends that the state judiciary is reliably inclined to rule against us, regardless of the particulars. In that context, fifty-fifty is an improvement and marks the frequently noted inside-Democrat nature of the current pension squabble.

The Importance of Ignorance

Alright, I’ll cheat and link the above section to the rest through a pun on the speaker’s name.  This is from The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.  (Psst: Wilde was punning on the name “Ernest,” as well.)

I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

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