The Lie of Critical Thought

While a graduate student, I wrote a paper entitled A Marxist Synthesis to Educational Analysis. In this paper, I addressed a shift promulgated by neo-Marxists vis-à-vis culturalist theory. Aspects of cultural theory shaped my educational and pedagogical premise that students must be free thinkers. Furthermore, if they are to become free thinkers, they must construct their own synthesis toward ideas and ideals… not a mere synthesis of their academic environment. Much of my conclusion is shared by Stanley Fish, a wonderful leftist academic who always looked to empower the well prepared student through Socratic discussions. His post-modern analysis toward radical theory, queer theory, and deconstruction has continued to revolutionize education.

As a student, I recall on a number of occasions challenging the status of my campus. Often frustrated by the same white protestant male espousing the same political, ideological, and religious beliefs. From class to class, I watched my anger grow as I sought to understand my own learning and identity from the likes of Richard Wright and W.E.B. Du Bois. I knew they would not sing the same old company lesson plan articulated by one-dimensional institutions. I asked more than once: Why the preachy lessons on moral abstract construct espoused by ONE ideological thought? or, What does the black teacher think? or Where are the black, Asian, American Indian teachers? How about ONE Jewish teacher? Maybe a pro-Palestinian professor?  Creating institutions that inculcate the same values and norms does not allow students to become critical thinkers. It is a lie. We (including myself) recycle the same language but, each time we do, we ask students to think critically. Here is what Fish has to say:

…the Academic Bill of Rights, the Student Bill of Rights and the Princeton Student Bill of Rights all speak of the importance of promoting and protecting the academic freedom of students. What could this possibly mean? The only freedom students rightly have is the freedom to vote with their feet if they do not like the syllabus in a particular course. They are not free to demand on the basis of an intellectual diversity or balance or pluralism or some other specious abstraction that the syllabus be changed to suit their personal or ideological inclinations. Nor are students free to introduce into a classroom issues or perspectives that are judged by an instructor to be beside the point he or she wishes to explore. Instructors are free to say to a student, that may be an interesting question, but it is not one we shall be asking here.

The rhetoric of academic freedom for students is a subset of the rhetoric of student rights. But students have no rights, except the right to competent and responsible instruction. They certainly do not have any right to be instructed by a conservative teacher or a liberal teacher or a religious teacher or a white teacher or a black teacher or a teacher of any color. The idea that students have rights often accompanies the idea that students are customers and teachers, providers. Students are not customers and if we survey their preferences and alter our product accordingly, we will not only have betrayed our professional responsibility; we will have betrayed them

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3 thoughts on “The Lie of Critical Thought

  1. When I taught in public school, we had scripted daily lesson plans given to us by the central office. It was a sad way to teach–an endless cycle of evaluations and benchmarks to demonstrate compliance. Teachers were not allowed the luxury of critical thought, much less the students.

    I am grateful to be able to have more freedom now regarding my curriculum. In my Spanish classes we might discuss illegal immigration, government tortures/kidnappings in South America in the 70’s, or Basque terrorism. We as teachers have the responsibility to share more than one side of the story with the students, and to guide them as they come to their own conclusions.

    And we do need more diversity. Perhaps a visiting professor? Guest speakers? You can make it happen, Eddie.

    • I too like my freedom. Guest speakers for institutions that lack a voice is a great idea; however, some institutions prefer insular walls, which limits the expansion of students’ thinking.

  2. Michele, I would go mad. I teach at a large public school here in Houston and I would just go crazy if someone in some big office acted as he knew more than me.

    Carson, I tend to agree with you, but not so much on the point that one has to have all of the variables mentioned to think critically. I will admit, I do have all of those things. I teach in a wonderfully diverse place. My college was greatly diverse. Those factors helped me. But a good teacher can compensate for the lack of voice. As you said if the culture promotes a single voice, well that is the issue.

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