Now, riddle me this: Why aren’t kids being asked whether at certain points they would be justified in calling shenanigans on anything Barack Obama, a Republican President, or any politician, for that matter, is telling them? Why are they instead being prepped–by guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, no less!–into, as McCluskey puts it “ask[ing] students how president Obama will ‘inspire’ them in his speech before he gives it, and how they were inspired after Obama has spoken”? I mean, is it possible that we might consider that Barack Obama won’t inspire students, or that in the course of giving an otherwise laudable statement telling students to stay in school, the President might say something objectionable that kids should be prepared to take him to task for? What if, for example, the President slams school choice, despite the evidence showing that school choice is good for kids, good for educational policy, and good for the country as a whole? Shouldn’t students be prepared to dispute that point, or at least think about disputing that point?
We don’t just send kids to school so that they can memorize information. We also send them to learn to think critically, and to use skepticism as a useful tool for intellectual exploration and fact-finding in various circumstances and situations. And yet, as McCluskey reports, kids are being set up to accept and swallow whole claims and comments being made by a politician. Yes, that politician is the President of the United States, but that makes matters even more alarming; just as we ought to learn from an early age that appeals to authority are a logical fallacy, we also ought to learn from an early age that just because an authority figure (even one as imposing as the President) says something, that does not mean we are supposed to check our critical thinking skills at the door.
But instead of preparing kids to learn the virtues of responsible skepticism, we are priming them instead to accept the words of the President of the United States as gospel, and to refrain from engaging in a critical examination of the President’s comments from the perspective of a devil’s advocate. And people wonder why it is that public schools are accused of failing their students.