Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alas, Hypatia's Girl is Busy

It seemed like such a decent idea to start a blog, but then, you know, you get busy.

What's interesting about this busyness (those parts that are not actually panic attacks about graduate school applications and the fact that ZOMG, if I don't get into a Ph.D. program this time I'll probably just be a loser and work retail, quietly dying inside from the fact that I have a dream and can't fulfill it, I mean . . . really) is that it all revolves around teaching and pedagogy and the fact that I, apparently, can't tell the difference between Critical Thinking and Ethics.

I just spent a very entertaining half hour talking about this semi-god-forsaken class that I'm teaching, and in doing so realized that what I want the kids in the CT class to learn is virtually identical to what I want the kids in the Ethics class to learn.

Now, this of course, is likely of little surprise to Hypatia's Boy, with whom I have countless and entertaining arguments about the role and availability of reason in thinking, but the connection between the course objectives in CT vs. ethics for me isn't that weird Kantian belief I have that clear thinking leads you to good ethics because prejudice and being a dick are inherently unreasonable stances (true story, you're not thinking clearly if and when you engage in systems of privilege) but rather that, quite literally, all I want my students to take away from either class is that you cannot think alone.

It's that line from the prologue to The Human Condition, "we must think what we are doing."  One of the most interesting and horrifying positions my students take (aside from the libertarian who really doesn't understand just what a terrible human being they are when they say that people only deserve healthy food if they can afford it) is that quasi-non-judgmental stance where they say things like "true for X."  As in, who are we to say that X's belief in Y is wrong, perhaps truth is relative.  It's more pronounced in the ethics classes, where there is this strange desire to not admit to a universal ethic.  This weird relativism extends into an inability to consider future, interrelated consequences.

I know where they get it from.  We don't see a lot of empathetic thinking.  We do see a lot of false balance.  Look, you do not want to live in a world where there is only solipsistic reasoning.  We do not actually live in a world where "true for X person but not Y person" has meaning.  The earth is an oblate spheroid, and we are capable of telling members of the flat-earth society that they are wrong.  The universe is 13.5ish billion years old.  Systems of privilege are wrong, and so is ignoring them.  This is true.

Critical thinking is not all about learning about models of argumentation, it's about learning to think what we are doing, learning to think about what effects our actions have on the world, and whether we are justified in taking that action.  Ethics is not all about reading papers on differing positions and trying to decide what a Utilitarian would do, or how to destroy the oppositions' argument, rather it's about learning to think what we are doing, taking into account our actions on others and whether we are justified in taking that action.

I've been thinking about this long enough that writing the last gave me such an intense feeling of deja vu that I find myself vaguely dizzy.  I should read more novels I suppose.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to my world. Oh and by the way, get out of Toledo. You'll get into a program. No worries