Critical Thinking, Diversity and the White High School Students of Kent County
July 28, 2007

"There is phony 'critical thinking' and there is real 'critical thinking.' If you want to be a critical thinker, you need to learn the difference."

That statement is a good slogan. It turns the issue of critical thinking on itself. We must think critically about anything we are told in the name of critical thinking. This is especially true when lessons in "critical thinking" are given along with topics such as "diversity" or "multiculturalism." Since "diversity" sessions are going to be part of every Kent County public high school student's education in the upcoming 07-08 school year, I'm writing up a few ideas on how you might prepare for and interpret your experiences. (See July 18, 2007 Grand Rapids Press article "Kent high school students to get diversity training" by Dave Murray.) One way or another, your "diversity education" will be an important part of your actual education on the subject of race relations and racial politics in America. As with many educational experiences, advance preparation, serious reflection afterwards and a critical attitude will help you learn as much as possible.

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I've studied "diversity" related topics for a long time. I even went through a few amazingly silly sessions when I worked at the University of Michigan many years ago. So I think I can make a few reasonable guesses as to what might happen. A key point is that the training session will be five hours long.

The beginning will be mostly informational. By the middle of the session, there might be some displays of negative emotion -- indignation, accusation, whatever. By the end, after the tough discussions have taken place, there will feelings of togetherness, a multi-racial sort of feeling of group solidarity and general, pleasant feelings of enlightenment. Some of you might feel that you have learned some kind of positive lesson in critical thinking. My hunch is that the training will be manipulative and misleading, but if you apply genuine critical thinking to everything that goes on, you really will be somewhat enlightened about realities that will probably play large parts in your future.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

I'm sure you can think of a few questions of your own. But the biggest question you need to ask is, why are these sessions even necessary? Why not have a few serious words from school officials during pep assemblies? Something like: "Be enthusiastic, be good sports, be good representatives of our community. Show respect for the opposing team and the students who come here to cheer for them." And so on. Simple points that can be effectively made.

In 1963 the almost all white high school I attended had a basketball game with an all black team from Highland Park. It was a fine, spirited game. We did not have any "diversity training" and we did not need it. Why do you need it?

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Coming up with serious questions and trying to answer them is an important part of critical thinking. There are a few general questions that apply to most situations:

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I expect my readers to think carefully and critically about the ideas in this essay. Is this all baloney or am I making some reasonable points? Yes, I'm trying to persuade you to at least try to think about things from my perspective. But this is just a humble essay. You can read it carefully in 10 or 15 minutes. I'm not holding you captive for five hours. I do not have and would not want the authority to reward or punish you based on your reactions to the points I make. I thought about lots of serious ideas when I was in 9th grade and even earlier. I believe you can do the same.

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When you get home from school on the day of your diversity training, I suggest that you spend some time, even a few hours, writing up everything that happened. Was there any drama? How did it happen? Was there any verbal abuse of students? Write down the details. Were you given any information that struck you as false? Did the presenters use any techniques that were emotionally or psychologically manipulative? Did you experience or learn anything of value? Again, write down all the details. If aspects of the training were positive and educational, write that down. If you feel enlightened, cool. Write down what you have learned.

Then I'd suggest you forget about the whole thing for a few weeks or a month and then read some critical articles on the subjects of diversity and critical thinking. Here are a few possibilities:

After you have read and thought about the above articles, go back to the stuff you wrote down after your diversity training. Have your perspectives changed at all? Or was your initial positive or negative interpretation essentially correct? Whatever. If you feel moved at this point to write a formal essay or blog entry, that would be a good thing to do.

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True Critical Thinking might very well be the whole key to the future. With myriad powerful interest groups employing powerful techniques of mass persuasion, only those who can truly think for themselves will be able to form successful opposition groups. If you think there are important ideas in this little blog entry, then help publicize it. Link to it, repost it, pass out copies. Talk about it with friends and parents.

 
Copyright © 2007
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