July 30, 1993

Critical Thinking

Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Ambrose Bierce, 1911

(A transcription of a lecture delivered by Professor I.B.Klardenker, at the Second International Inservice Symposium on Critical Thinking.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming here today. I thank you in my name, in the name of my wife, children, grocer, automobile mechanic, doctor, dentist and the many other people who depend on me for their welfare.

I know that none of you here are critical thinkers. How do I know this? I know this because, had you been critical thinkers you would not be here. You would have asked yourselves, "What does this man have to teach me?" Your critical mind would have said to you "Absolutely nothing" and you would have chosen to do something else.

Now that you are here, I guarantee that when you leave, you will be thinking more critically than you did before. I guarantee it --but it is not a money-back guarantee. What you paid for, you will get. Asking for your money back will only serve as proof that you are now thinking more critically than you did before. That is the best that I can do, since it is too much to expect someone to become an expert in a subject after one session. It takes a lifetime to create proficiency in almost anything, and critical thinking is no exception. For me, critical thinking has been cultivated over my whole lifetime. That is why I am the professor and you are the students.

The language that we use is inextricably linked to the way that we think and vice versa. A critical thinker can be identified not only by the clarity of his speech, but by his word preferences. Some words are as linked to critical thinking as how you hold your tennis racket is related to how you strike the ball and where it goes.

It is much easier to first change your vocabulary and speech than it is to change your mode of thinking, so we will try to change that first, and hope that more critical modes of thinking will follow. I will, therefore, introduce you to some critical words. Actually, you only need one word and everything else will follow.

Now class, repeat after me: bullshit ...again, Bullshit, again BULLSHIT .... again BULLSHIT!! That was very good, but you didn't say it with conviction. Now let me tell you something that will stimulate your enthusiasm: I love every one of you as I love my wife and children; now try it BULLSHIT! --now that was much better.

I want to warn you, that while thinking the B word is essential to critical thinking, saying it out loud can get you a fat lip or cost you your job. However, if you think that saying it to me will get you your money back, you are mistaken. Bullshit is what you paid for, and that's what you are getting.

It is not enough to shout the B word; what is important is to think it in response to any statement that you don't know for sure is true. I know that it is not what you have been taught to do in school. Schools are not in the business of getting people to think critically. In fact, thinking critically will interfere with your schooling, rather than enhance it. In schools you will be taught to remember, and that is what you will be tested on. You will not be asked to be critical because schools are there to provide jobs for teachers, principals and administrators. They are not there to produce people who might say that schools might be superfluous to education. The world can accommodate only so many critical thinkers. More than that critical mass will interfere with things getting done. For every critical thinker you need a large number of people who will not think much and will do what they are told to do by a critical thinker.

If you think at all, you are probably asking yourself what does he have against schools? I have nothing against schools. Were there no schools, I would probably have to make a living as a farmer or automobile mechanic, and I have an aversion to getting my hands dirty.

So, in closing, I want to say to all of you, that you have paid good money for almost nothing. Now if realizing this doesn't make you think more critically next time, I would be very surprised. Thank you for your time and, mostly, for your money. It will be well spent.

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