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Editorial: Restoring critical thinking in higher education

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Editorial: Restoring critical thinking in higher education

Kagenmi - Fotolia

Kagenmi - Fotolia

Kagenmi - Fotolia

Reginald Webb, Times Staff

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The complete abject failure of the American political process is the result of the growing unwillingness of adults to think critically about problems and the solutions they arrive at to solve them.  We are witnessing an unprecedented breakdown in the workings of our federal government as a result of a growing resistance to engage in sincere debate and compromise to find solutions on the important issues that affect us all.

As defined by, critical thinking is “the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.” It is a process that requires an honest and impartial gathering of the facts and all other relevant information regarding a question or issue at hand. It is a process that when applied correctly, will conclude in a thoughtful and reasonable solution to a problem or a reasonable perspective or opinion.

What we see too often is the complete dismissal of this process in our politics, and alarmingly in some of our media sources as well.  American media has become too partisan and entrenched in spinning issues toward a certain ideology regardless of the actual merits of the issue.

Any number of issues exemplify this, one such being the current healthcare debate. Despite the Affordable Care Act insuring millions of folks who otherwise would not have insurance, we have a political party that wants to repeal it. Despite that it is existing law, policymakers opposed to it have done what they could to sabotage it or make it difficult to work properly, rather than working on improving or increasing its function for the larger public.  

Immigration reform has been unattainable in part because our so-called leaders fail miserably at finding any common ground toward the issue. Rather, there has been a clear choice to rhetorically fan the flames of fear and emotion. Irrationality and biased reasoning has been rewarded, leaving the urgent need of reform behind and undone.

Most notably, the notion of man-made climate change has suffered clearly from the lack of and even denial of scientific and critical thought on the subject.

Conservative versus liberal ideology is today’s Civil War in this country. Sadly, those on the right have abandoned college campuses to create an unprecedented amount of think tanks built to perpetuate an inflexible approach toward public policy making, preferring to languish in debate over the role of government on all questions. Progressive thought has dominated most college institutions while conservative perspectives have declined leading to the intolerance of more conservative viewpoints on college campuses amongst students and faculty.

Clearly, much must be done about these trends. A good start at combating them would be a re-emphasis on critical thinking. College must be the place where young adults develop lifelong thinking skills that allow them to make rational decisions after careful and concise scrutiny, while acknowledging the emotional and ideological biases that may affect their conclusions. Students must embrace critical thought if we are to develop new ideas, liberal or conservative, that challenge the status quo and ultimately restores the role of college as the bastion of robust intellectual discovery, debate, and critique.

The ability to maintain impartiality is mandated in our system of governance. We ask the judiciary to do this all the time, yet it is becoming  much more partisan these days than in the recent past. Famously, in the Bush vs. Gore minority opinion by John Paul Stevens, Stevens wrote, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

Simply put, our ability to reason and settle our differences is suffering in this country. It is something we desperately need to get a handle of or we will remain divided regionally red and blue, racially black and white, and socially young and old. A re-emergence of critical thinking is extremely necessary to help solve this breakdown of American society.

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Editorial: Restoring critical thinking in higher education