Jen Shroder and “Critical Thinking”

Jen Shroder and “Critical Thinking” August 6, 2004

I’m moving this exchange up to its own posting because I don’t want it to get lost amid the more recent articles. We first encountered Jen Shroder when her colleague Tamara Wilhite was awarded the Idiot of the Week prize a few weeks ago. I found an incredibly stupid article by Wilhite on a site called that actually said that the terrorists will bomb us because of gay marriage, then while looking through that site came across an even more ridiculous article by Shroder, that included such staggering statements as:

“Pluralism” is a hate religion dedicated to eradicating the fundamental beliefs of Judeo-Christianity and all real faith.

After staring at the screen with my mouth agape at this bit of slugheaded nonsense for a few moments, I decided to divide up the award between the two of them. Mrs. Wilhite responded to my article in email, which I posted and responded to previously. Shroder has been leaving comments on the thread below, which is now being moved up here.

She posted the text of a new article she had written about the “liberal tyranny” of education, but there wasn’t really anything about tyranny in it. The gist of that article was that she was quite upset that a specific philosophy professor at some place called Cuesta College out in California is A) liberal and B) teaches about philosophers in an intro to philosophy class. Read that last part again, because it’s true – Shroder is actually upset that in a class that this professor teaches called Introduction to Philosophy, she teaches about Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Plato and Kafka. She even names them by name as the objects of her ire. I’m not sure who she would suggest should be taught in such a class, but apparently she’s quite shocked to find out that there are thinkers throughout history that don’t believe all the things she does, and any teacher brazen enough to mention those people is establishing “liberal tyranny”. I’ll take bizarre non-sequiturs for $1000, Alex.

Anyway, after a couple of strange comments that included some false claims about hate crime statistics (which I will address in my next post so as not to get two different issues mixed up), I finally said:

I’m still waiting for you to explain why your last article was about the “tyranny of liberals” when the only thing it really said was that some college professor was liberal and taught about philosophers in a philosophy class. How exactly does that establish “tyranny”?

Which she responded to early this morning with a long screed that really just has to be seen to be believed. She begins:

Do I really have to explain this? It’s obvious. Why are students compelled to take classes aimed at assaulting religious beliefs?

Well, yes, you have to explain this. Because at this point, it looks a lot like hysterically overblown rhetoric to me. And frankly, I’m just tingling with excitement at the thought of what’s coming down the pike here

A lot of it comes from the State Standards. Public schools and textbooks now have a license to control our children’s thought process under their favorite phrase, “critical thinking.” The definition is well written, but in reality it only opens the door to our children’s minds for teachers and textbooks to instill their own agenda. Our children are being ravaged by a two-headed wolf; the current emphasis to teach religion while simultaneously giving teachers the right to lead our children to believe what they deem “rational.” More often than not textbooks prove their “rationale” is atheism.

Okay, that looks a lot like more hysterical rhetoric to me, but “ravaged by a two-headed wolf” is a nice metaphor. You could have gone with “ripped apart by a pack of wild dogs” or “disembowled by a mad scientist”, but you went for a Little Red Riding Hood theme and it works for me. Nice work.

Example: from Houghton Mifflin’s “Modern World History,” (pg 627):

“Human beings are spiritual animals…Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the same time they created works of art.” (see full text )

Uh, okay. What exactly is it that bothers you about that statement? It is entirely true and accurate. We find evidence of religious or spiritual beliefs, in the form of ritual burials, shaman’s capes and other artifacts, going back to the very early days of Homo sapiens and even further, to the later days of Homo erectus. It is in fact one of key diagnostic traits that separates the genus Homo from all other animals. No other animal exhibits evidence of any contemplation of the spiritual or any thought to the possibility of an afterlife, but humans do, and did, from the earliest days of the species going back at least a couple hundred thousand years and likely much further. Some Christian thinkers even use this fact as evidence that human beings are the only species that God imbued with a soul or spirit capable of knowing him. Yet somehow you think that the very mention of this fact constitutes “ravaging” our children by a two-headed wolf. Quite odd.

From “History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools”:

“Students should understand the intense religious passions that have produced fanaticism and war as well as the political arrangements developed (such as separation of church and state) that allow different religious groups to live amicably in a pluralistic society.” (pg 23)

Um, okay. Again, what is the problem with this statement? You can’t possibly teach history without teaching about religious conflicts. Would you rather have students learn about, say, the Crusades or the Inquisition or the various Caliphates of Islam without any mention of the religious context or motivations? That would be an incomplete education at best and downright dishonest at worst.

Likewise you cannot get an accurate grasp on the history of America’s founding without some understanding of the history of religious conflict that men like Jefferson, Madison and Adams sought to avoid by separating government from ecclesiastical establishments that undermined freedom of thought and by eliminating such tyrannical laws as religious tests for office. They wrote volumes on the subject and went to great trouble to pass laws such as the first amendment and the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, and they explicitly invoked the history of religious tyranny and religious wars (the same history you apparently object to having taught) as the reasons for doing so. And this has nothing to do with atheism, of course, because all of the founders were deeply religious men. Their knowledge of the tyrannical history of religious establishments and the history of religious wars over political power did not make them atheists, so why would teaching that history today be proof of some atheistic agenda? Those statements are still true, regardless of whether one is a Christian, an atheist or a buddhist. You might not like it, but it’s still true. And truth is really all that matters here.

These state standards admit RIGHT HERE that the goal is to water down the faith of children.

Uh, no they don’t. In fact, those standards don’t even mention goals, much less “admit” to the goal you read into them. Those standards you just quoted are completely accurate and true statements about human history. But apparently telling the truth about history amounts to “liberal tyranny” to you. Quite bizarre.

We can believe, just do not believe passionately. “Intense religious passions that have produced fanaticism and war.” What about the intense religious passion that has prompted so many to love and acts of compassion? Overwhelmingly the largest charities and free service organizations world-wide stem from passionate religion and faith.

The standards don’t say that wars are the only result of religious passions. But war and fanaticism clearly are produced by religious passions. See Bin Laden, Osama. Students are also generally taught about that history of faith motivating positive things too, as well they should be. They are taught about Joan of Arc, for example, and they are taught that she was motivated by her religious faith, as they should be. They are taught about the Puritans and how their faith gave them the strength to set out for the new world. This is good history, presenting both the good and the bad. The only requirement is that the claims be true, and so far the examples you’ve cited have all been true.

But public education sees passionate religion as something to be abolished and is taking steps to do so. It was the passionate religion of our forefathers that shaped the foundation of this nation. To diffuse the passion of religion is not the purpose of public schools.

No, but to point out both the positive and negative historical results is teaching accurate history. What would you suggest, that they teach only the good things about religion and none of the bad? When they teach about Osama Bin Laden, should they not mention that his religious fanaticism is what drives him and allows him to recruit followers willing to kill themselves? Should they just cover the good things that Muslims do (and there are many good things)? Oh wait, those are muslims. I’m guessing that you only want bad things taught about them, and only good things taught about Christians. But again, the only requirement is that the history that is taught be true, not that it conform to what you want to be true.

In addition, different religions were already living amicably in a pluralistic society without the help of separation of church and state, as indicated above.

Hmmm. Where would that be? Certainly not in America prior to the bill of rights. If they were “living amicably in a pluralistic society”, then why did the founders push so hard for disestablishment in the states? How do you square the claim of “living amicably” with the reality of Baptist ministers being thrown in jail in Virginia because they didn’t preach the official state religion of Anglicanism (it was hearing those ministers singing hymns from prison that motivated James Madison to make church/state separation a priority and push to disestablish Virginia’s official church, which he did successfully in 1786)? How do you square the claim of “living amicably” with the jailing of Quakers in Massachusetts or the jailing and persecution of Puritans in Pennsylvania? Sorry, you just don’t know your history very well, it seems. Perhaps you need some of that “liberal tyranny” you are so opposed to.

“Students need to understand why a democracy needs citizens who value give-and-take on issues, who do not feel it necessary to go to war over every idea, and who seek the middle ground on which consensus and cooperation can flourish.” (pg 39)

There IS a right and wrong, and when something is very wrong, I hope our children become passionate about it. The above sentence is not about peace, it’s about dumbing down America. Teaching us to be non-responsive and apathetic. What if Patrick Henry or our forefathers were conditioned this way? What if America sought the middle ground with Hitler? There is such a demand in society to deny right and wrong and to put everything in the gray, but this will not achieve peace, we will become like sheep ready for the slaughter.

Oi vey. The simple and obviously true statement that you can’t have a democracy if you treat EVERY issue as life and death and have to go to war to resolve any disagreement is not the equivalent of teaching that NO issue is important enough to go to war over. The history books certainly teach that the battles over slavery (including the Civil War) and the fight against Hitler were justified and necessary, so it can’t possibly be true that teaching the importance of compromise means that you should never fight for anything. For crying out loud, you really are grasping at straws here.

Modern textbooks have successfully rewritten American history and we are behaving like sheep in allowing it with an occasional bleating. Under the guise of “critical thinking,” textbooks are taking the opportunity to instill their own atheist philosophies and lead our children down any slanted path imaginable. Our children should be learning FACTS, and need protection from the exposure of personal agendas easily blanketed by the term “critical thinking.”

Except that the FACTS that were in the standards cited above you wanted NOT to be taught. It is a fact that human beings started to worship gods as soon from the early days of human existence; but you object to the teaching of that fact. It is a fact that intense religious passions often have resulted in fanaticism and wars of conquest; but you object to the teaching of that fact. It is a fact that Plato, Mill, Nietzsche and Kant are all prominent and influential philosophers; yet you object to teaching them in, of all places, an intro to philosophy class. You don’t want facts, you only want facts that conform to what you wish was true.

Our “History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools” State Standards describes critical thinking as follows:

Critical Thinking Skills

“The skills involved in critical thinking enable students to question the validity and meaning of what they read, hear, think, and believe. Critical thinking requires a questioning mind and a skeptical withholding of assent about the truth of a statement until it can be critically evaluated. While such skills are developed through everyday living as well as by schooling, the history–social science classroom is an especially appropriate setting for developing such skills.”

Wow, a questioning mind and evaluating whether statements and claims are true. What’s next, logic and reason? How horrible! We can’t have our children growing up to question statements and evaluate them to see if they’re true before assenting to them. That’s too much like, ya know, thinking.

Why is the history-social science classroom an especially appropriate setting for developing such skills?

Maybe because history and social sciences deal with the interaction of people and ideas, and it is the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of ideas that requires critical thinking skills? Just a thought. Oops, sorry, thought = liberal tyranny. I forgot.

Critical thinking is indeed “especially appropriate” if you are an atheist eager to apply skepticism of religion to young impressionable minds. Would an atheist hope to “critically evaluate” religion with children? Oh you bet.

So is it your position that religion should be exempted from critical thinking? You wouldn’t go to a doctor or a mechanic who didn’t apply critical thinking (which really just means the application of logic in evaluating a situation), but you think no one should critically think about religion? Wait, I doubt that’s true. I bet you’re all for thinking critically about other religions, like Islam or Hinduism. Just not your religion. What you’re really looking for, it seems, is for no one to ever say anything that you object to or that is contrary to your religious beliefs.

A far better application of “critical thinking” would be in the classroom of science. Why not teach children to question the truth about scientific theories? In the case of evolution, the “rational thinking” would be most appropriate. Scrutiny of Darwin’s theory could prove invaluable. “To reach conclusions of solid evidence” would be a welcome reality check.

Scientists do use critical thinking when forming theories. That’s what that whole “testing a hypothesis” thing is about. I’m all for teaching children the truth about scientific theories. In fact, I formed an organization that lobbies to insure that we do precisely that. Let me guess, you think that science doesn’t “tell the truth” about evolution because you don’t believe in it? Sorry, the evidence is against you.

“History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools:” (pg 24)

“This framework proposes that critical thinking skills be included at every grade level. Students should learn to detect bias in print and visual media; to recognize illogical thinking; to guard against propaganda; to avoid stereotyping of group members; to reach conclusions based on solid evidence; and to think critically, creatively, and rationally. These skills are to be taught within the context of a curriculum that offers numerous opportunities to explore examples of sound reasoning and examples of the opposite.”

Thinking rationally? Reaching conclusions based on solid evidence? Egads, what is the world coming to?

“To recognize illogical thinking”

As determined by who? Teachers insist Islam cannot be taught without induction practices, yet teach American history stripped of it’s Christian foundation? Public school can’t recognize its own “illogical thinking.”

LOL. I love this “teachers insist” statement. In ONE school district they had a teaching curriculum on Islam that included costumes and memorizing prayers and verses of the Quran. A bad idea, I think, but it hardly amounts to “teachers” as a whole saying any such thing. It was one freaking district, and one that will almost certainly get smacked down in court for it. As for “American history stripped of its Christian foundation”, I suspect this just means that anything short of the false claim that all of our founders were raving fundamentalists proves bias.

“To reach conclusions based on solid evidence”

This is the opener to attack faith. (We walk by faith not by sight)

Well I’m glad to hear you admit that your faith is not “based on solid evidence”. But of course you would not object to examining the evidence for any other religious belief, would you? You just think yours should be exempted from all evaluation and scrutiny.

There’s more to it, which you can see in the thread below, but it’s just repetition of the same inflated rhetoric. None of the examples cited come close to supporting that rhetoric, as I’ve shown above. Lots of bleating about FACTS, when it’s entirely obvious that she has no interest in any facts that don’t conform to her wishful thinking.

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