Thomas Sowell on a common problem in educating children

20 07 2010

From Sowell’s 2010 book, “Intellectuals and Society”

“By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way”

This immediately made me think of Objectivist epistemology.  Concepts are identified as being hierarchical.  Ayn Rand wrote in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p41 that:

“Concepts have a hierarchical structure, i.e., . . . the higher, more complex abstractions are derived from the simpler, basic ones (starting with the concepts of perceptually given concretes).”

I believe it is ridiculous for young school students to be discussing political issues.  The result would most likely be indoctrination of the status quo or the belief of the teacher.  The result can be a highly opinionated young adult quick to anger due to their subconcious knowledge that he/she is unable to defend their opinion using logic and rational argument.  A great way to check the validity of your political opinions, is to attempt to define the concepts upon which your opinions rest.  For example, the other day I heard someone claiming that “Australia is the most racist country in the world”  A startling claim.  Aside from wondering how this person had quantified their belief, I wondered if this person had ever tried to define racism. 
Most of us view racism as a dirty word (me included).  But what is the definition of racism?  Are some races inherently inferior?  Is any generalisation based on someone’s race, racist?  Are generalisations about cultures or races possible?  What’s the difference between a race and a culture?  Is the word racism misused in our society?

Not so simple right? 

Often, political issues involve thinking about complex abstractions and children are not equipped to do this type of thinking.  Their learning is highly dependent on adults, they have no life experience outside of school, and they have not developed advanced skills in thinking logically and rationally. 

Despite the “I’m OK, you’re OK” feel good notions of our modern schooling, the fact is that not all opinions are equally valid.  And not all people should be expected to have opinions on all issues. 

Children should ideally learn WHY a fact is considered a fact.  What chain of discoveries or concepts led to this? 

Thinking is a complicated business and it’s important to do it as accurately as possible.  Another quote from Ayn Rand on thinking, this time from “The Virtue of Selfishness, p20:

“It is an actively sustained process of identifying one’s impressions in conceptual terms, of integrating every event and every observation into a conceptual context, of grasping relationships, differences, similarities in one’s perceptual material and of abstracting them into new concepts, of drawing inferences, of making deductions, of reaching conclusions, of asking new questions and discovering new answers and expanding one’s knowledge into an ever-growing sum.”

Some opinions are well thought out, based on concepts which can be explained by a logical regression back to perceptual facts of reality.  Other opinions are not well thought out. (see any mainstream newspaper for proof)       

I have very little knowledge in the field of civil engineering to pick a random example.  My opinion on the design and materials for the construction of a bridge would be basically worthless.  That’s obvious, but when it comes to politics many fall into the trap of treating all opinions as being equal and also encouraging young children to hold political opinions. 

The problem of populism extended to the child’s classroom.  In politics many people believe popular opinion is the best way to gauge the correctness or validity of a proposal.  People and politicians often fall into the trap of equivocating democratic process with freedom.  No matter how many people will something to be so, it doesn’t make it so.  eg/ No matter how many religious people believe in Creationism, it’s always wrong, anytime, anywhere. 

As a primary school student I resent being indoctrinated to believe in global warming and deep ecology ideology and to believe our society is overtly racist and sexist.  I was indoctrinated in egalitarianism in politics and altruism in ethics – ideologies that I am glad I have now thought about and rejected due to their contradictory nature.




One response

29 10 2010
Environmentalist ideology well entrenched in Australia « Tim R

[…] So the brain washing and indoctrination continues in Australian schools.  Surprise, surprise.  I have previously written about what I think of indoctrinating school kids on political issues here. […]

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