Critical Thinking

Where are the Smartest Kids in the World?

We all agree education is important; that our kids deserve the best learning; that our teachers should be the best at their job — then we have this tendency to walk away and let our government take the reigns. They roll out one “education program” after another — effectively experimenting on our children every few years — while spending loads of money.

Then we all get angry, argue and complain when we find out our children aren’t measuring up to other nations or aren’t prepared for life.

Amanda Ripley takes on this “twenty-first mystery” of why, in a country that spends untold millions on education, still falls short.  In her essential book, The Smartest Kids in the World (and how they got that way), she dives deep into American education as she follows three students as they attend schools overseas. What is one major difference Ripley finds?

Teaching is treated as a top-tier profession. Teachers are educated and expected to perform accordingly.
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Categories: Books, Critical Thinking | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Eclipses and Cosmic Purpose

Hundreds of moons, planets and other bodies in the Solar System, and  only ours — Earth and the Moon — have perfect solar eclipses.  Astronomers have long noted this strange phenomenon, and the unlikely parameters that cause it. Not only that, but they happen to occur in a time in Earth’s history where they can be observed.  Astronomer John Gribben writes:

Just now the Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun, but the Sun is 400 times farther away than the Moon, so that they look the same size on the sky. At the present moment of cosmic time, during an eclipse, the disc of the Moon almost exactly covers the disc of the Sun. In the past the Moon would have looked much bigger and would have completely obscured the Sun during eclipses; in the future, the Moon will look much smaller from Earth and a ring of sunlight will be visible even during an eclipse. Nobody has been able to think of a reason why intelligent beings capable of noticing this oddity should have evolved on Earth just at the time that the coincidence was there to be noticed. It worries me, but most people seem to accept it as just one of those things.

Even if we brush this off as coincidence, as some have tried to do, there is another layer to this. Many of the interconnected factors that allow the eclipse to occur, also allow life to exist on Earth. Continue reading

Categories: Critical Thinking, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cult of PC

Adherents to the cult of political correctness continues to plague writers and filmmakers. Often, before a film or book even is released, trolls come out of the dark recesses of the internet to create fake outrage over films they often haven’t seen, or books they haven’t read.

When trailers were shown for The Great Wall, self-appointed diversity police immediately complained that the “white” star in a Chinese film, must have been indicative of a “white savior” story. In other words, the white man was going to save the poor Asian masses.

These claims were fishy from the start: This was a Chinese film, filmed in China, by a Chinese director, with a cast made up of nearly all Chinese actors. Additionally, the open-minded Chinese government is very picky on what is shown in its theaters. Perhaps, most importantly, is that it was clearly a fantasy film and didn’t pretend to be otherwise. Continue reading

Categories: Critical Thinking, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some are More Equal than Others

After seeing this video on judging people equally, I was reminded of this famous quote from George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Animal Farm, both allegory and satire, was published in 1945 as a commentary on the totalitarian communist regime of Stalin. Yet it is still very much relevant today in that people seem to unwittingly allow ideas of inequality and fake tolerance into their thinking. We tolerate unless it offends us. We are inclusive if we agree with the included. We preach equality, but judge differently.

It is easy to caught up in causes, movements and emotion. These are the times we should be most on guard, for this is when others can take advantage of us. When we aren’t thinking clearly, and chaos is around us, we should stop and clear our mind. As Orwell wrote:

In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

And so is defending truth.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Death of History

It is said that if we ignore history, we will repeat it. How can we follow this quintessential maxim if we allow people to erase or rewrite history?

Recently, Charlottesville City in Virginia, voted to tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee at a cost of $300,000. Once councilman claimed it was “delusional”  to believe anything different than the “Confederate states had as their primary aim the preservation of a way of life in which enslaved humans.”

No, Councilman, your statement is a rewrite of history.

There were those who wanted to preserve slavery, but Lee was not one of them, he wrote before the war (as quoted by H.W. Crocker III): “In this enlightened age…slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil…” and “emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity than from the storms and contests of fiery controversy.”  Lee would also free his inherited slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation and argue for the South to abolish slavery during the war. Lee was loyal to Virginia, and when it seceded he went “to her defence” but still hoped that “wisdom and patriotism of the nation will yet save it.”

He believed in the United States of America, but also the right that every state understood when they joined the Union: The right to leave. To consider Lee a symbol of racism or slavery is what is delusional. Ignoring history also makes it easy to avoid the question that few every want to ask:

Was there not a better way to end slavery and preserve the Union that didn’t result in the deaths of at least 620,000 Americans (and maybe as many as 850,000)? Continue reading

Categories: Critical Thinking, History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Orwell’s Revenge

After President Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, made an odd comment about “alternative facts,” others quickly noted the similarity to the concept of “newspeak” in George Orwell’s classic, dystopian novel 1984. Newspeak was the language used to control and shape the thoughts of people. To be fair, terms like “fake news” and “alt-right” are also Orwellian, as well as how many in the media and Washington (from both sides) try to manipulate people and thoughts. Thanks to all of this, Orwell’s book, along with similar classics like A Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, went to the top of bestseller lists.

And that made me laugh.

These are books on how governments, politicians and the media manipulate, control and monitor (Big Brother) the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the people.

Do the politicians and media really want the people reading these books? Do they want you to realize, that on a daily basis, that they have become what the Orwells of the world warned us about?

They may just have opened Pandora’s Box and there’s no closing that.

P.S. I had wondered if people even read these books in school anymore; perhaps these sales show they have not. It is also amusing to see the media and politicians lecturing us on truth, such as Dan Rather, who got himself in trouble for pushing “fake but accurate” news (talk about Orwellian). The media and politics are riddled with truthtwisters – perhaps Orwell will help more people realize this.

Categories: Books, Critical Thinking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America: Miracle or the Titanic?

So I ran across The 5000 Year Leap, subtitled A Miracle That Changed the World: Principles of Freedom 101, at a book sale. Here, in one volume, is an accessible volume on the principles that went into writing the U.S. Constitution. The chapter I opened today reads:

3rd Principle: The Most Promising Method of Securing a Virtuous and Morally Stable People is to Elect Virtuous Leaders

Isn’t that a novel idea?

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Categories: Critical Thinking, History | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

What the Vikings Can Teach Us

We’re all taught that Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492, with the caveat that the Vikings arrived centuries earlier circa 1000 A.D. This is always added as a bit of a footnote, as if it’s not all that important. Sure, it didn’t have the impact of the Spanish-backed Columbus voyages, but the Viking voyages have always been begrudgingly admitted to existing. Even before ruins were found in the 1960s, the Viking Sagas and other accounts were largely written off as myth. Even after the finds, the story went like this, “Yes, they came here, probably over a couple centuries, but these infamous explorers never did much of anything.” Doesn’t really make much sense, does it? Why the reluctance to give the Vikings their due? In light of the discovery of a new Viking site in Canada, perhaps our prejudices in studying our own history need re-examined. Continue reading

Categories: Ancient America, Ancient Sites, Critical Thinking, Native Americans | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Every Generation’s Legacy

Think not forever of yourselves, O chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground. – Peacemaker, Founder of the Iroquois Confederacy

In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion…Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation. – The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law

There are a variety of quotes like these, often rewritten as some variation of, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…” These quotes are often used in discussion of environmental issues, but they are a fundamental concept of foresight that should be applied to much of our thinking. This is something our politicians rarely do — they’re only concerned in what they can say or do (or appear to do) to get them through the next election cycle.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, History, Nature, What You Can Do | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opening Our Eyes in 2016

I’ve written on how 19th Century author George MacDonald fathered the fantasy genre that has become such a staple of literature. Beyond that, MacDonald was also a controversial figure in his day, and even now. Why? Because he wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Biographer Michael R. Phillips writes:

In his later writings MacDonald strongly attacks the mentality that cares more for providing its own position than for discerning the truth. He would prefer to find himself in the wrong, and thereby learn a new facet of truth, than win an argument…he would not even formulate an opinion until he sees the question more clearly…[he wouldn’t]…put forward an opinion prematurely until the light of truth had been shed upon it.

Here, on the first day of the new year, perhaps this is what we should keep in our minds and on lists of resolutions. A commitment to test what we read, what we are told and what the powers that be claim is so. In an election year this is even more important, because the professional politicians and their dutiful followers have already spent months weaving their deceptions. We need to be like MacDonald who had

…a mind not afraid to doubt and ask questions. It was a mind not hiding behind doors, but knocking on them. His eyes were wide open, alert to any entrance of truth.

So in 2016, let’s open our eyes, stop hiding and start knocking.

Categories: Critical Thinking, What You Can Do | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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