BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO CLEAR, CRITICAL, AND ANALYTICAL THINKING

PREFACE

 

                            

THE TOPSY-TURVY WORLD OF CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Introduction to the Preface

 

This preface is an "Open letter to President Barrack Obama as circulated to Secretary of Education, Dr. Arne Donovan          

 

                   

                                                                                                                   

As an educator, it has long been my opinion that our schooling authorities and institutions in America, on the one hand, do a commendable job of using the method of repetition in teaching our students the three Rs, reading, ’riting, and ‘rithmatic, i.e., WHAT to think, while, on the other hand, offering a deaf ear to those who have for centuries advised them of their great failing to do what they are responsible to do if they are to teach our students H0W to think.  The sad truth is that not only have they not been “listening” to the voices of reason for nearly twenty-five centuries, but are completely, and it would appear deliberately, avoiding doing so.

They have taught well the techniques of manipulation of the three Rs: while only passingly depending on osmosis as the means for determining the truth-values of their beliefs, the countless claims of life, and how to distinguish unfalsifiable from falsifiable language.

 

                                                                                                      February 16, 2009

                                                                                                                               passch2@verizon.net                    

                                                                                                                                                              

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC.  20500  

            

Dear President Obama,

With all that you have on your mind, I have no allusions as to whether this mail will get past your secretary to you.  Nevertheless, considering your expressions of concern regarding “education” and your requirement that the Secretary of Education is to accept advice by and give voice to the general public, somebody, among those who advise you, may recognize the extreme importance of what I wish to convey since philosophers, through centuries, including mine in the present one, have been voices in the wilderness on the subject.

Succinctly expressed, this vitally important issue can be stated, if not clearly, in simple but not often enough declared terms.  Teachers not only fail to educate our students in the true sense of that word but rather consciously refuse to or are incapable of doing so.  They and their superiors choose to concentrate on teaching students WHAT to think, at the terrible cost to humanity, of neglecting to teach HOW to think, as if the sole purpose of attending school is to prepare one for obtaining a good paying job.  Succinctly, Stuart Chase expressed it well in his book, The Tyranny of Words.  

“Language is no more than crudely acquired before children

 begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.

  Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?”

The statement, however, possesses a complex significance, to which the members of the teaching profession appear to be oblivious. I will attempt to offer some insight.  Teachers, this applies to college levels also, neglect to teach our students how to distinguish nonsense claims to truth and knowledge from claims that make sense.  Students, for instance are not taught to recognize the linguistic nonsense of a claim, despite its importance, such as taught in mathematics, as “There are as many points on the short leg of a Pythagorean triangle as there are on the hypotenuse.”  They are taught to memorize it, parrot it, and manipulate the words with no inquiry as to the fact that the term,  ‘point,’ is an abstract term possessing no characteristics of physical existence.  Nor, do they question the truth of the equation, 1 + 1 = 2.  There is never any discussion of evidence as to whether the ones are equal or even whether numbers really exist.

           Teaching HOW to think has been my Raison d'être for over 50 of my 96 years since 1955 on the pre-college and college levels, the latter at which I am still teaching.   In 1960, I introduced and taught for eight years one, if not the only one, high school course entitled, Critical Analysis, for which I wrote and published the text, Critical Analysis, Language and Its Functions.  I also founded and published an international journal, The Journal of Critical Analysis, originally oriented toward the introduction of critical analysis on the pre-college level.  Extensive publications, and a website, index.htm, a seventh edition of which will appear in hard cover amounting to over almost a thousand pages, attest to my pioneering efforts.

When unfalsifiable claims are multiplied by more than can be counted and accepted as true, the result is the world we live in with all its trials and tribulations.

Most of the citizens in the world haven’t a clue that all language relates only to our perceptions and conceptions of a justifiably ASSUMED existence beyond our experiences, as Einstein clearly stated thusly,             

The only justification for our concepts and systems of concepts 

is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences; 

beyond this they have no legitimacy.

From experience on the pre-college level, I know what the reaction of former colleagues will be.  Their first and steadfast self-defense against reeducating themselves will be that the students will not be capable of understanding the concepts.  I adamantly reject this excuse.  However, I cannot make the case in a short written message.  The opposition to teaching children HOW to think will be founded on sheer ignorance and claims of formidable opposition.

President Obama, the main point of this letter is to request that I be allowed an extensive opportunity to argue my opinions based on my teaching the subject.  The main reason for the lack of development of good reasoning, in the minds of the world’s citizenry, is the incapacity or neglect of our teachers to include in their classroom vocabulary the words and concepts that are absolute necessities in recognizing and revealing language that is linguistic nonsense.

In closing, I am asking you to use your authority to enable me to discuss, personally, the possibilities for truly educating our students, as well as schooling them, with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. 

        At the very least, our teachers must be required to teach ideas such as those listed below.  They will otherwise resist educating themselves for that purpose and humanity will continue to suffer the consequences it has experienced since the dawn of man.

I am fully aware of the daunting task to undo the status quo in our schooling institutions, after centuries of ingrained abuse, but

 

Until teachers are required to emphasize the sources and

methods used to instill or condition our beliefs,

 

Until teachers are required to emphasize the difference between verifiable and unverifiable language,

 

Until teachers are required to emphasize that no symbol has an inherent meaning, that words do not HAVE meanings, until some intelligent being attributes meaning to them, 

 

Until teachers are required to emphasize that all meaning is in a physical brain not in symbols, not in words, not in black marks on paper, or sounds from people's mouths,

 

Until teachers are required to emphasize that knowledge is experience but experience is not knowledge, nor is it physical reality,

 

Until teachers are required to emphasize that truth and knowledge are only probable and dependent on language and available evidence,   

 

           Until teachers are required to emphasize that though much is possible, it is not the case that ANYTHING is possible,

 

           Until teachers are required to emphasize that every declarative sentence is preceded by an unspoken IF,

           

           Until teachers are required to emphasize that every claim to truth and knowledge is preceded or ended with an 

           unspoken  (sometimes spoken) ACCORDING TO AVAILABLE EVIDENCE,

 

          Until teachers are required to emphasize that recognizing the “level” of language being used is crucial to       

          understanding the meanings we attribute to symbols,

 

         Until teachers are required to emphasize that education should never be equated with schooling, proselytizing,      

         and  indoctrination, and rote learning,

 

        Until teachers are required to emphasize the extent of our abusing language, and will spend considerable  

        time explaining how we do it,

 

we shall, because of dependence on the fountain of abused language, despite all the progress of mankind, be subjected to more of the horrific man-made problems we are so efficient at creating and to the centuries-old unverifiable epistemic nonsense that has diluted our thinking processes from the dawn of man, and will continue to do so far into the unforeseeable future.

                                                                                                                                                                 Sincerely yours,

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                 Pasqual S. Schievella, PhD

                                                                                                  

 

cc: Secretary of Education Dr. Arne Donavan

 

 

                                                                                                         

                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                   August 23 2010                                                                                                                                                                    passch2@verizon.net

 

President Barrack Obama,

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

NW Washington D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama,

            On February 16, 2009 and August 23, 2010 I sent you and your Secretary of Education, letters expressing grave concern about our schooling institutions on the assumption that your administration meant your announcement that you are “committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history.”  I interpreted that to mean that my communication on a matter or dire importance would at least warrant a reply relating to the issue I did, and am again going to, address.

I’m aware that the issues that press you in guiding the affairs of our nation are of the greatest importance.  However, the issue I wish to address is at least equally important as witnessed by the clear and stark evidence of the state of affairs of the world and yet has been ignored throughout history and still is deliberately ignored despite persistent warnings of our greatest minds, or if not ignored is accorded a miniscule amount of attention.  I’m aware that because the general public is so unconcerned regarding it that our political leaders either don’t have a clue about it or if they do, they feel no moral compunction to address the issue.

Please let me introduce myself.  I am a 96-year old professional philosopher and educator who has struggled with the solution to the problems, I wish to address, for close to half a century mostly at my own expense, with a degree of success so insignificant, it amounts to no success at all in diminishing the problems of the world.  A perusal of my website, index.htm> (email: passch2@verizon.net) close to a thousand pages in hard cover, attests to my efforts [with three degrees from Columbia University including a Ph.D. -- formally Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Jersey City State University, still teaching (as an adjunct) at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island].  For years, I've striven, at personal cost, to be given a voice, [without success -- except for four TV (and one radio) interviews by Joel Martin ten or more years ago and some forty “Letters to Editors” (most published) and copied to my website] regarding the most important issue relating to our failing so-called "educational" institutions.  Few of your experts seem to be aware of what appears to be a deliberate neglect or a fact of inadequacy for teaching students certain facts that are essential to their learning HOW to think.

Throughout my teaching career I’ve tried to teach my students HOW to think as well as WHAT to think, an effort that is obviously neglected either deliberately or out of incompetence in our institutions of learning.  In April of 1969, after leaving teaching high school earlier to accept a professorship in Minnesota, using my teacher’s salary, I founded The National Council of Teachers for Critical Analysis and its international journal, The Journal Of Critical Analysis, to bring attention to a great failure of education on the pre-college level, in the hope that I might instigate a drastic change in the way our children are being taught.  They are being trained, not educated.  Our teachers concentrate on WHAT to think with little to no regard for teaching them HOW to think clearly, critically, and analytically. 

  The state of the world itself is clear evidence that the citizens of the world are essentially trained to remember, not to be clear, critical, and analytical thinkers, i.e., they are not being educated.

                                                                                                                                           Sincerely yours,

 

                                                                                                                                             Pasqual S. Schievella, Ph.D.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   cc:  Secretary of Education, Dr. Arne Donovan

Encl: Topsy-Turvy World Of Critical Analysis

               For instance, consider this opening-day message to my new students.

A short message to my students at Suffolk County Community College and the Youth Council of New York

Welcome to the Topsy-Turvy World Of Critical Analysis, a strange world in which the symbols through which we attempt to communicate do not NECESSARILY carry the meanings to which you are accustomed.

Throughout your 12 years of schooling, you and your parents were led to believe that you were being primarily educated when in fact you were being merely informed of countless facts that you were required to remember until you were able to repeat them.  For the first few years, you were not required to understand what you learned to repeat even as some modicum of understanding may have been seeping through your use of language.                          

For example, you were taught to say and believe, “One plus one equals two.”  You had no idea what “one” meant, or “plus” or “equal.”  As you grew older, you were taught thousands of words that you learned to manipulate, words like “democracy,” “justice,” “Hell,” “Heaven,” “angels,” “unicorn,” “force,” “gravity,” “triangles,” “spirit,” “good,” “bad.”  Your parents and teachers told you what each of those words means.

You, in turn, learned to manipulate them as if you had a clear idea of their meanings and consequently interchanged them with friends and relatives in order to let others have some insight into what you were thinking.

What your parents and teachers did not teach you, as they taught you WHAT to think, was that those words have no inherent meanings.  The dictionary does not tell you what words mean.  It records how we did use, no longer use, and now use words.   Each of you attributes some meaning to them as you use them, a meaning that someone else may not be attributing to them as that someone hears them.

   For instance, a fact you were not taught: no two people experience the world in the same way.  No one experiences the real physical world.  Throw a ball up in the air; it appears to get smaller the higher it is thrown.  Or, close your eyes, and the visual world “ceases to exist.” “It is not getting smaller nor ceases to exist, but the perception you are experiencing is getting smaller and/or then ceases to exist.  Therefore your language, describing the event, is describing what is inside your head, not outside it.  Every time you use language, it is about what you are thinking and/or experiencing, not about what may exist outside your head.  Consider the profound implications of that true fact and then ponder the brilliant observation of Stuart Chase, worth repeating, who wrote in his book, The Tyranny of words,

  Language is no more than crudely acquired before children 

begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it. 

Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?  

 

And S. I. Hayakawa, in his Language in Thought and action

 

The “educated” are frequently quite as naïve about language as the uneducated, 

although the ways in which they exhibit their naiveté may be less easily discernible.  

In deed, many are worse off than the uneducated,

because while the uneducated sometimes realize their own limitations,

the “educated” are in a position to refuse to admit their ignorance 

and conceal their limitations from themselves by their skill at word-juggling.

  After all, “education” as it is still understood in many circles

 is principally a matter of learning facility in the manipulation of words.

             

             As you can see from the above, this is a course that is going to tax your brain for power of understanding, not merely your capacity to memorize.  Consequently, it will require a seriousness of study on your part. 

              The norm for study, as determined by the experts, is that you should study two to three hours for each hour of class.  The tendency of most students fresh out of high school is to wait until the last minute to fulfill the demands of the course.  This is a serious mistake.  The whole point of studying in advance is to allow the brain to continue to absorb the new information while your attention may be on something else.  The nature of the subject matter of this course is such that you will be confused for the first few weeks, perhaps even a month, while the brain is sorting things out. As one philosopher expressed it, “Confusion is the first sign of progress.”  That’s because as you study these issues, doubts begin to arise in your thinking about things you once believed without reservation.  But with the new insights you are acquiring, you are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  One of the main reasons for this is that the implications and relations of ideas in philosophy are of such a nature, considering that it must be taught with the use of conventional language that entails accepting language at face value, that it takes a stretched out period of time for those relations to become understood as not being quite true.

              You are high school students no longer; you are now in the world of “grown ups,” expected to be one of them, to try to think as do adults, shedding any and all inclinations toward behaving like spirited children not in control of your behavior.  This is to be a class in which students will be expected to offer arguments, in the logical sense of that term, to each other and to the professor, that is, with respect and lacking emotion but not enthusiasm.

As to your responsibilities, you are expected to be in your seats at or before 6:00 p.m. with your texts, pen and pencil, and notebook, with cell phones on ‘off’ and out of site.  If they are to be used for recording the class content, they must be placed on the professor’s desk.  Desktop computers, are not permitted.  You must raise your hand for permission to speak and to leave the room (keeping in mind that leaving the room during the class lecture counts as not showing up for class and entails diminution of the term grade). 

             Finally, if you are a responsible student interested in sharpening your mind and seeking knowledge, instead of merely being satisfied with or receiving a “good” or passing grade, it is incumbent upon you to study seriously the facts, rules, principles, and vocabulary that characterize Critical Analysis (One who does not know its vocabulary does not know the subject!!!!)   If you do, you will have surpassed the minds of the general public to the point that you will also have to learn when and with whom you will impart your newfound understanding of the world.  On the one hand, if you use it carelessly or to exude a sense of superiority, you will loose friends and alienate those dear to you.  On the other, you will be respected and sought for advice.  But above all else, you will have achieved the means to recognize your areas of ignorance, a recognition that raises you to the level of a person of wisdom.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................"Encl:" Topsy-Turvy World Of Critical Analysis

             For instance, consider this opening-day message to my new students.

A short message to my students at SCCC and the Youth Council of New York

Welcome to the Topsy-Turvy World Of Critical Analysis, a strange world in which the symbols through which we attempt to communicate do not NECESSARILY carry the meanings to which you are accustomed.

Throughout your 12 years of schooling, you and your parents were led to believe that you were being primarily educated when in fact you were being merely informed of countless facts that you were required to remember until you were able to repeat them.  For the first few years, you were not required to understand what you learned to repeat even as some modicum of understanding may have been seeping through your use of language.                          

For example, you were taught to say and believe, “One plus one equals two.”  You had no idea what “one” meant, or “plus” or “equal.”  As you grew older, you were taught thousands of words that you learned to manipulate, words like “democracy,” “justice,” “Hell,” “Heaven,” “angels,” “unicorn,” “force,” “gravity,” “triangles,” “spirit,” “good,” “bad.”  Your parents and teachers told you what each of those words means.

You, in turn, learned to manipulate them as if you had a clear idea of their meanings and consequently interchanged them with friends and relatives in order to let others have some insight into what you were thinking.

What your parents and teachers did not teach you, as they taught you WHAT to think, was that those words have no inherent meanings.  The dictionary does not tell you what words mean.  It records how we did use, no longer use, and now use words.   Each of you attributes some meaning to them as you use them, a meaning that someone else may not be attributing to them as that someone hears them.

   For instance, a fact you were not taught: no two people experience the world in the same way.  No one experiences the real physical world.  Throw a ball up in the air; it appears to get smaller the higher it is thrown.  Or, close your eyes, and the visual world “ceases to exist.” “It is not getting smaller nor ceases to exist, but the perception you are experiencing is getting smaller and/or then ceases to exist.  Therefore your language, describing the event, is describing what is inside your head, not outside it.  Every time you use language, it is about what you are thinking and/or experiencing, not about what may exist outside your head.  Consider the profound implications of that true fact and then ponder the brilliant observation of Stuart Chase who wrote in his book, The Tyranny of words,

 

Language is no more than crudely acquired before children begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.  Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?  

 

               As you can see from the above, this is a course that is going to tax your brain for power of understanding, not merely your capacity to memorize.  Consequently, it will require a seriousness of study on your part. 

   The norm for study, as determined by the experts, is that you should study two to three hours for each hour of class.  The tendency of most students fresh out of high school is to wait until the last minute to fulfill the demands of the course.  This is a serious mistake.  The whole point of studying in advance is to allow the brain to continue to absorb the new information while your attention may be on something else.  The nature of the subject matter of this course is such that you will be confused for the first few weeks, perhaps even a month, while the brain is sorting things out.

As one philosopher expressed it, “Confusion is the first sign of progress.”  That’s because as you study these issues, doubts begin to arise in your thinking about things you once believed without reservation.  But with the new insights you are acquiring, you are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  One of the main reasons for this is that the implications and relations of ideas in philosophy are of such a nature, considering that it must be taught with the use of conventional language that entails accepting language at face value, that it takes a stretched out period of time for those relations to become understood as not being quite true.

You are high school students no longer; you are now in the world of “grown ups,” expected to be one of them, to try to think as do adults, shedding any and all inclinations toward behaving like spirited children not in control of your behavior.  This is to be a class in which students will be expected to offer arguments, in the logical sense of that term, to each other and to the professor, that is, with respect and lacking emotion but not enthusiasm.

As to your responsibilities, you are expected to be in your seats at or before 6:00 p.m. with your texts, pen and pencil, and notebook, with cell phones on ‘off’ and out of site.  If they are to be used for recording the class content, they must be placed on the professor’s desk.  Desktop computers, are not permitted.  You must raise your hand for permission to speak and to leave the room (keeping in mind that leaving the room during the class lecture counts as not showing up for class and entails diminution of the term grade). 

   Finally, if you are a responsible student interested in sharpening your mind and seeking knowledge, instead of merely being satisfied with or receiving a “good” or passing grade, it is incumbent upon you to study seriously the facts, rules, principles, and vocabulary that characterize Critical Analysis (One who does not know its vocabulary does not know the subject!!!!)   If you do, you will have surpassed the minds of the general public to the point that you will also have to learn when and with whom you will impart your newfound understanding of the world.  On the one hand, if you use it carelessly or to exude a sense of superiority, you will loose friends and alienate those dear to you.  On the other, you will be respected and sought for advice.  But above all else, you will have achieved the means to recognize your areas of ignorance, a recognition that raises you to the level of a person of wisdom.  

 

 

PHILOSOPHY

 To teach how to live without certainty
and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation
is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy 
in our age can still do for those who study it.

Bertrand Russell 

 First, perhaps, it is appropriate to point out that 'philosophy' and 'philosopher' are often abused terms and are little understood by the general public.
 I believe, also, that they are often used carelessly by many of those who claim to be philosophers.
 Dictionaries offer too many different usages, to the point of a "theory of everything," to cite here.
 However I shall offer a few.
 Philosophy:
    1) A critical study of fundamental beliefs and the grounds for them.
     2) Sciences and liberal arts exclusive of medicine, practiced law, and theology.
     3) An inquiry employing the accepted tools of critical analysis and evaluation -- of any particular religion.
     4) The general principles under which all facts can be explained, i.e., synonymous with science.
     5) The science of the first principles of being.
     6) Popularly: the sum of the ideas and convictions of an individual or group.
     7) Calmness of temper and judgment.
     8)The art of rational conjecture. (B. Russell)
     9) My own and preferred definition is: the study of abstract ideas and their relation to and effect upon human beings, their beliefs, and behavior.
     10) Many, many more; but most popularly cited by professional philosophers and based on translation: the love or pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
 Philosopher:
    1) A reflective thinker.
     2) A student of or specialist in philosophy.
     3) One whose philosophical (# 6 or 7 above?) perspective enables him to meet trouble calmly.
     4) One who is devoted to the search for fundamental truth.
     5) One who lives according to reason or the rules of practical wisdom.
     6) There are many more sophisticated usages.
 As to number 9, if philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, it is neither when we give realistic credence to ideas and uses of language that cannot be verified or falsified.
 History will attest that to do so, too often leads to dire consequences for humanity.
 Perhaps it is the recognition of this that leads such a noted pursuer of knowledge, such as astrophysicist, John Bahkall, to state, with some validity, "Philosophy is the kicking up of a lot of dust and then complaining about what you can't see," (i.e., test).

 Why, then, Philosophy?

 Ignoring the benefits of mental gymnastics, you may wonder what the raising of analytic dust of such concepts as language, reality, truth, knowledge, time, space, point, straight line, mind, substance, morality, metaphysical and supernatural constructs, and too many more to cite here, has to do with you.
      All you may be concerned with are your own areas of interest and/or competence such as subjects in college, hobbies, your profession, political events of the day, your fundamental beliefs and deeply held convictions, whatever.
      It should be realized, however, that if you want to learn to think with a superior degree of clarity and understanding in your own special field, there is much you must learn that appears not to be relevant but is essential to a complete understanding of it, particularly if you are not to remain within the mold of thought already set by those who precede you.
      Einstein and all the other renowned thinkers of the world became great because of the ability to think critically and analytically in discovering the deficiencies of their predecessors.
      More than this, a study of the methods and subject matter of philosophy should help you to become better people, critically analytical of divergent points of view, but more tolerant and understanding of the frailties and strengths of your fellow man.
      In the end, you will gain a greater sense of self-respect; for you will have lifted yourself above the "common herd" in that you will have become aware of less a need for the crutches with which so much of mankind has shored itself.
      In place of these crutches you will have acquired knowledge and wisdom and a confidence in that one faculty which separates you from the lower animals -- your mind -- with its newly developed abilities to distinguish alternatives in thought that so often are found in different contexts.
      Heretofore, perhaps, you have not known them.
      The path to a true education is the pursuit of their discovery.

 SEE: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

 

THE STRANGE WORLD OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLEAR, CRITICAL, AND ANALYTICAL THINKING

'T'is strange-but true,
for truth is always stranger than fiction.
Lord Byron 

There is nothing so powerful as truth,
and often nothing so strange.


Daniel Webster

 

WELCOME to the strange world of clear, critical, and analytical thinking.  Strange?  Yes!  It is strange because it entails thinking about our life-time beliefs so many of which we feel, with certainty, to be true but which upon applying analytical thought are shown to be either false, half true, or unable to be verified or falsified.  Strange, particularly because it entails thought about:
      our use, misuse, and abuse of language that leads us to accept false beliefs as true,
      how accepted ideas are promulgated and passed on to new generations of people,
      why these ideas are accepted without question,
      the many conflicting claims and concepts of God, gods, religion, and the theistic language that cause us to believe what cannot be verified,
      the uses of confusing language that leads us to accept imagination as reality,
      the uses of words, names like "point," "number," and mathematical constructs like triangles, squares, etc., that lead us to believe they refer to something real,
      failing to distinguish between reality and our experiences of it,
      what we have, as with "Pavlov's dog," been conditioned to believe,
      whether we can ever know what reality is,
      how much we should trust our sense faculties,
      how much we should trust our "knowledge,"
      how much we should trust authorities,
      how much we should trust our language.
      It is a strange world, also, because even when an inkling of clear, critical, and analytical thinking is applied, it entails processes of thought that the average person not only does not use but is incapable of using or even imagining.  He has not been subjected, in our institutions of learning, to the rigors of analytic thought.  This is so because it is to the advantage of those who hold the reins of government and power to be able to use language as a regulatory device.

WHAT OUR TEACHERS DID NOT, COULD NOT, WOULD NOT, OR WERE NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH US.  

If one is serious about becoming a critical and analytical thinker, these are important matters to be thoroughly understood, about “language” before clarity in intelligent argumentation can occur.

BEWARE OF THE DANGERS INHERENT IN THE USES AND ABUSES OF “LANGUAGE”

 Consider:  With a spin on Socrates' admonition: "The unexamined life is not worth living," the unexamined symbol is not worth using.

No symbols of any kind, especially those we call words, have inherent meanings, whatever is the evolutionary stage or mode of usage and change of conventional usage.     

The source of all human meaning is the human brain.

Nothing in the universe outside the brain has an inherent human meaning.

 Language is the ATTRIBUTION of meaning, not MEANING. 

All the so-called "meanings" of symbols, words, for instance, are no more than a conventional way of attempts at communicating, leading us to forget that each of us is instructed for most of our lives, as to what meanings are to be assigned to symbols according to the stage of evolutionary changes taking place in the uses, and mostly abuses, of them.  

All the meanings we attribute to them are the meanings our parents, teachers, friends, priest, etc., have told is to give to the symbols we call “language,” -- unless we personally conceive meanings ourselves.  Hence the problems of the world! 

Rarely does a teacher, if ever, inform students about the role of conventional language as a source of beliefs.

If the above is fully understood, an electrifying awakening should occur as to why beliefs are so readily accepted without benefit of offered supportable evidence  –  true, false, or neither preventing becoming victims of unverifiable and unfalsifiable claims.  

To understand the above is to understand that all “language,” i.e., attribution of meaning, is about what is occurring inside our brains, whether one is a scientist, a pope, a priest, a teacher, a parent, etc., and relates to nothing more than our perceptions, conceptions, and experiences of what we, rightly, assume is a physical world beyond them.  Where truth and knowledge claims are concerned, only verified predictable perceptions justify our acceptance of them.  

People with untrained minds should no more
expect to think clearly and logically than
people who have never learnt and never
practised can expect to find themselves good
carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists.
A. E. Mander

ADDENDUM

This addendum comes by way of a speech given at a dinner at which I received a Lifetime Award from the New York State Youth Council for my pioneering lifetime pursuit of attempting to require our teachers to teach the principles fundamental to clear, critical. and analytical thinking.  I was asked to speak on the issue of the failure of our teachers to emphasize how to think as well as what to think.  With some minor changes this is the whole of it.  

  I humbly accept this award  in the name of all those thinkers, over the centuries, from Socrates to today, whose eloquent warnings of the pitfalls and dangers of abused language were so shamefully ignored.  

When President Michael Tessler spoke to me about the award, I did have some reservations.  But as I thought about it, I recalled my own experiences in acquiring an education that enabled me to attempt such a challenging goal.

At age 23, after an eight-year hiatus, I decided to return to high school.  When I approached Principal Earl L. Vandermeulen about returning to the classroom as a freshman, he kiddingly remarked, “Yes, if you behave yourself.”

 

It was a turning point of my life.  But another hiatus was in the cards I had yet to play.  Our country couldn’t win World War II without my four years, seven months, and fifteen days of service.  However, the GI Bill came to my rescue and I was able to earn a PhD., in Philosophy at Columbia University at the age of 53.

I’ve recounted this bit of history of my life to prove to you that “Where there is a will, there is a way.”  

I concluded that I was being given an opportunity to express my opinion about the fifty years, out of my 96, of effort to bring change to what I consider is a great failing of our schooling institutions and those in charge of them.   Part of my effort included the founding and publication of the international Journal of Critical Analysis that flourished for twenty years, world wide, later followed by The Journal of Pre-College philosophy, published (probably) the first high school text for pre-college philosophy as well as various articles espousing the need for the teaching of critical analysis.  In addition my wife and I communicated with most of the high schools in the nation, listing those interested, in The Journal of Critical Analysis.

When I discussed this with President Tessler, to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that we were of like mind.  He advised me that students of today want more out of high school than mere facts.  Apparently they are aware of Albert Einstein’s words of wisdom from his book, Ideas and Wisdom:

                              . . . Education is that which remains if one has forgotten                     

                                                     everything he learned in school.

                                                                                           

            Or Stuart Chase, from his Tyranny of Words.

 

  Language is no more than crudely acquired before children

 begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.  

 Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?

 

Much is heard of our failing schools and the catch phrase, “No child left behind.”  But strangely, and absurdly, the cure all is declared to be the simple solution of graduating more students predicated upon the memorization and regurgitation of facts with little, if any, effort to teach them how to think.  In other words preventing dropping out of school is the main goal of “No child left behind.”

         There is nothing difficult to understand about opening the door, so to speak, to teaching our children how to think in concert with what to think.  A teacher merely needs to add a few important words and ideas to the teaching vocabulary consistently and repetitively.  They are words and ideas that have for centuries upon centuries been excluded in the teaching process. 

 

Herein lies the importance of teaching our students how and when to use the question, “What do you mean?” intelligently; not: “What does that word (i.e., symbol), mean?”  Out teachers, themselves, must become accustomed to asking the question, to set an example.

 

The main idea is that words, or more inclusively, linguistic symbols, because even what you wear functions as a symbol, don’t have meanings.  We attribute meanings to them out of our minds, the lone, I emphasize the only source of meaning.  That’s why, largely, the world is such a mess -- because our minds are.  So to the degree that our minds are poorly educated, so goes the world. 

       

            The most important idea a teacher must emphasize is whether the language being used can be shown to be true or false.  Most of the language we use cannot because we use so much metaphysical, abstract, transcendental, metaphorical, supernatural, theistic, and despite its importance to our technological progress, mathematical terminology that our teachers fail to expose as not subject to support of evidence, i.e., being able to be shown to be true or false.   As the prominent mathematician, G. H. Hardy essentially in concert with Einstein, and Bertrand Russell declares:

 

  A mathematician is someone who not only does not know 

what he is talking about but, also, does not care.

 

            Our teachers, themselves, are either ill equipped to distinguish falsifiable from non-falsifiable language or are deliberately negligent, lacking the patience or perhaps the time to produce evidence.

 

   The major change to be brought about is to require our teachers to teach our students how to think as well as what to think.  In more technical terms, they must teach our students to be able to distinguish between falsifiable language (i.e., language that can be shown to be true or false) and non-falsifiable language (i.e., language that cannot be shown to be true or false – ever).

 

The bottom line regarding the nature of language is that: all language is about our perceptions and conceptions, not about an assumed reality beyond our perceptions leading us to the definitive conclusion that “Language is no more, and no less, than the attribution of meaning to linguistic symbols.   And, from a human being’s point of view, meaning resides nowhere other than within the confines of the human brain.

If a course in Critical Analysis including such facts was mandated and emphasized throughout the semester and the nation -- for that matter, the world, what a different and better one this present world would become.  Why?  Because our minds would then be forever faced with the fact that we have a moral responsibility to reject those beliefs, we consider to be facts, as we form our personal perceptions and conceptions so prone to error and so often the result of not having been taught to be able to distinguish falsifiable from non-falsifiable claims as is the case with most of our conventional use and abuse of language. 

            Lastly, I appeal to you to communicate with your Boards of Education, strongly and urgently insisting that if they wish to be honored under the aegis of the term, ‘Education,’ that they mandate the institution of courses in Critical Analysis and its principles throughout the United States, a change in our schooling institutions that our youth councils, as they expand and spread across the nation, are determined to bring about.

  

                                                                                            Copyright © 2010

                                                                       by

                                                        Pasqual S. Schievella  

   

                                                                          SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                 

 

 

 

(Strongly advised: Study my website links through Perennial Questions) 

                   

(index.htm)

                                  

A short message to my students at SCCC and the Youth Council of New York

Welcome to the Topsy-Turvy World Of Critical Analysis, a strange world in which the symbols through which we attempt to communicate do not NECESSARILY carry the meanings to which you are accustomed.

         
 
 
                                                    

Throughout your 12 years of schooling, you and your parents were led to believe that you were being primarily educated when in fact you were being merely informed of countless facts that you were required to remember until you were able to repeat them.  For the first few years, you were not required to understand what you learned to repeat even as some modicum of understanding may have been seeping through your use of language.                          

For example, you were taught to say and believe, “One plus one equals two.”  You had no idea what “one” meant, or “plus” or “equal.”  As you grew older, you were taught thousands of words that you learned to manipulate, words like “democracy,” “justice,” “Hell,” “Heaven,” “angels,” “unicorn,” “force,” “gravity,” “triangles,” “spirit,” “good,” “bad.”  Your parents and teachers told you what each of those words means.

You, in turn, learned to manipulate them as if you had a clear idea of their meanings and consequently interchanged them with friends and relatives in order to let others have some insight into what you were thinking.

What your parents and teachers did not teach you, as they taught you WHAT to think, was that those words have no inherent meanings.  The dictionary does not tell you what words mean.  It records how we did use, no longer use, and now use words.   Each of you attributes some meaning to them as you use them, a meaning that someone else may not be attributing to them as that someone hears them.

  For instance, a fact you were not taught: no two people experience the world in the same way.  No one experiences the real physical world.  Throw a ball up in the air; it appears to get smaller the higher it is thrown.  Or, close your eyes, and the visual world “ceases to exist.” “It is not getting smaller nor ceases to exist, but the perception you are experiencing is getting smaller and/or then ceases to exist.  Therefore your language, describing the event, is describing what is inside your head, not outside it.  Every time you use language, it is about what you are thinking and/or experiencing, not about what may exist outside your head.  Consider the profound implications of that true fact and then ponder the brilliant observation of Stuart Chase who wrote in his book, The Tyranny of words,

 

Language is no more than crudely acquired before children begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.  Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?  

 

Copyright  © August 11, 2010

  By

    Pasqual S. Schievella

 

As you can see from the above, this is a course that is going to tax your brain for power of understanding, not merely your capacity to memorize.  Consequently, it will require a seriousness of study on your part. 

  The norm for study, as determined by the experts, is that you should study two to three hours for each hour of class.  The tendency of most students fresh out of high school is to wait until the last minute to fulfill the demands of the course.  This is a serious mistake.  The whole point of studying in advance is to allow the brain to continue to absorb the new information while your attention may be on something else.  The nature of the subject matter of this course is such that you will be confused for the first few weeks, perhaps even a month, while the brain is sorting things out.

As one philosopher expressed it, “Confusion is the first sign of progress.”  That’s because as you study these issues, doubts begin to arise in your thinking about things you once believed without reservation.  But with the new insights you are acquiring, you are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  One of the main reasons for this is that the implications and relations of ideas in philosophy are of such a nature, considering that it must be taught with the use of conventional language that entails accepting language at face value, that it takes a stretched out period of time for those relations to become understood as not being quite true.

You are high school students no longer; you are now in the world of “grown ups,” expected to be one of them, to try to think as do adults, shedding any and all inclinations toward behaving like spirited children not in control of your behavior.  This is to be a class in which students will be expected to offer arguments, in the logical sense of that term, to each other and to the professor, that is, with respect and lacking emotion but not enthusiasm.

As to your responsibilities, you are expected to be in your seats at or before 6:00 p.m. with your texts, pen and pencil, and notebook, with cell phones on ‘off’ and out of site.  If they are to be used for recording the class content, they must be placed on the professor’s desk.  Desktop computers, are not permitted.  You must raise your hand for permission to speak and to leave the room (keeping in mind that leaving the room during the class lecture counts as not showing up for class and entails diminution of the term grade). 

             Finally, if you are a responsible student interested in sharpening your mind and seeking knowledge, instead of merely being satisfied with or receiving a “good” or passing grade, it is incumbent upon you to study seriously the facts, rules, principles, and vocabulary that characterize Critical Analysis (One who does not know its vocabulary does not know the subject!!!!)   If you do, you will have surpassed the minds of the general public to the point that you will also have to learn when and with whom you will impart your newfound understanding of the world.  On the one hand, if you use it carelessly or to exude a sense of superiority, you will loose friends and alienate those dear to you.  On the other, you will be respected and sought for advice.  But above all else, you will have achieved the means to recognize your areas of ignorance, a recognition that raises you to the level of a person of wisdom.  

          

 

  This website was created initially as the culmination of many years of classroom presentation of the subject entitled, "CRITICAL ANALYSIS," emphasizing Clear, Critical, and Analytical Thinking, now incorrectly but conventionally called, “Critical Thinking,” starting on the high-school level, to fill what I consider to be an urgent need not only for the pre-college student but for college freshmen as well.    

           It is my hope that the website will stimulate an awareness of the need for our euphemistically called “educational” institutions to awaken to their enormous failure to emphasize the study of our abuses of language in which we conflate falsifiable and verifiable language with unfalsifiable and unverifiable language, terms few students ever hear or know the usages of, to the point of designating them equal in clarity of communication.  Such a failure is the catalyst for the exponential rise of the ills of the world.  

           Historically, there have been thinkers before me, unheeded, who have repeatedly stated that the development of “critical thinking” is an essential but unfulfilled need.   

           Teachers across the nation, however, since it has become a shibboleth of our age, insist they teach it.  Few of them understand the complexity of the subject or that it cannot be instilled in a student by an osmotic residue in teaching another subject.

           It requires special attention and effort as an autonomous study in which special concepts and language, that most subjects do not require and most teachers do not have in their vocabulary, are essential to understand.  More worrisome, however, is that there appears to be little concern for the damage our failure to address the issue creates. 

           I found in my forty-nine years of teaching philosophy to high school students and college freshmen, who have never before been introduced to philosophy, that they tend to be emotionally immobilized and intellectually restricted, suffocated, and hampered by strict, formalized methodologies.  The exceptions are the few who do well in what ever they study primarily with  inquisitiveness, and the joy in acquiring knowledge -- all characteristics which make for easy absorption of new ideas

           Until those (or many of those) characteristics are inculcated upon (i.e., attitudes are changed) in relation to the pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and truth, students will barely come to understand the relevance of that pursuit to life, man, labor, and to self growth.

           The primary goal should be to reawaken in the student the natural curiosity that once permeated his being.  This can be accomplished, in general, by letting his mind soar free in at least one subject, Critical Analysis.

           In referring to "students," however, we must refer not merely to "gifted," "good" "college-bound' students, but also and especially to those who have been conditioned to be "average' by present systems of "education," by socially conceptual taboos, by parental mismanagement, and by instilled unexamined preconceptions inherited from by-gone ages -- too often medieval in character.  "Average" students, too, can be released from their hard core and retarding misconceptions.

            One of the social misconceptions in the minds of too many teachers and parents is that philosophy is suspect as to its motives and is to be shunned either as an instrument of sin, as too difficult for the average person, or as the study that "goes  'round' to nowhere."  The community at large has some radical re-education to undergo.

          There is, however, a "synonym" for philosophy which is not only not shunned but is considered honorific.  That term is CRITICAL ANALYSIS, a palatable term to teachers and parents alike.  If we want philosophy or its critical and analytical techniques taught on the pre-college level, let us re-name it CRITICAL ANALYSIS.

          Perhaps philosophy will then cease to be the one (the most important one for development of clear thinking), academic subject for which most students go to college without prior preparation.  Or, equally important, students not going to college will gain at least some insight into what constitutes clear thinking.

          As to priority of ideas, there are certain basic concepts a student must study; i.e., must be "compelled" to investigate if he is to learn to think clearly.  Given a background of rote learning, the growth of a student's ability to think clearly, in any discipline, depends primarily upon and is proportional to his awareness is prerequisite to a study of the complexity of the nature of truth; and both of these are prerequisite to a study of the complexity of the source and nature of knowledge.. 

          Experience has shown that the techniques for teaching children to think are not necessarily in "method," pedagogy, or innate ideas ( of the structure of language), but in depth analysis of the three basic" concepts: language, truth, and knowledge.  Dewey is right in thinking of ideas as instruments and in believing that the chief role of a good teacher is that of stimulating the student into becoming excited about the pursuit of knowledge.

          It matters not what "method" is used so long as the "method" allows for dialogue and free exchange of ideas.  Free dialogue, however, does not mean uncontrolled, un-channeled  and unreasoned dialogue.  Rather, it is a disciplining process analogous to that which frees a pianist to create beautiful music.  While the student should not be hampered by pedagogical methodologies that restrict a free pursuit of thought, this is not to say that organization is unnecessary.  Dialogue, for instance, if it appears to have a grasshopper characteristic, must be shown to be related to the "solution" being pursued.  Nor is dialogue to be construed to give a student permission to monopolize class time espousing or proselytizing one's deep un-foundable convictions.  But more than that, we need to give serious thought to what we mean by "Philosophy" when we speak of teaching it on the pre-college level.

          If we mean "to teach the thoughts of philosophers," that is one thing.  If we mean "to teach how to philosophize,"  that is, to think rationally, critically, analytically, or, if you will, clearly, that is something else.  If we persist, in those early years, in introducing philosophy into pre-college institutions as it is taught in college, we are doomed either to failure, as we have experienced it in many programs in the past, or to such a long, tortuous, and drawn-out effort that those who initiated the concept, after passing from the scene, will have left but legacy of futile effort.  That is to say, it is unlikely to receive wide acceptance for decades to come.  Or even more disastrous, Philosophy will become so diluted that it, in turn, will take its place as another watered down rote subject of mediocrity contributing nothing to the present crucial need for improvement in pre-college level "education." 

           There are lessons to be learned from past efforts to introduce Philosophy to the pre-college level and by refusing to be highly selective.  Too often introductory philosophy is taken to mean, "Throw the student into the waters of philosophy and let him try to learn to swim."  He is soon submerged, as will be the effort to bring philosophy to pre-college education.

           There is an important difference between Critical Analysis, as I use the term, and Philosophy,  just as there is between metaphysics and philosophy.  In each case, the former is less inclusive, more specialized than the latter.

             Philosophy is so extensive in its perspectives that to offer it on the pre-college level (even as an "Introduction to Philosophy"), to most students, parents, and teachers, generally, it  would be not only frightening but too ambitious.  Furthermore, it takes many years of pursuit of the study of Philosophy before clear, critical and analytical thinking evolves, primarily because there are so many diverse currents of philosophic thought, so many in fact, that often philosophy majors pursue special directions of philosophic thought to the detriment of developing critical and analytical acuity.  This is accomplished easily because so little study on their part is given to the subjects that form the core of Critical Analysis: Language, Truth, and Knowledge.  Fortunate majors in philosophy happen to study those aspects of philosophy either accidentally or late in their college careers.  Hence, the development of their critical and analytical acuity acquires a kind of scattered, "shotgun" result. 

           A study of these three areas: Language, Truth, and Knowledge, is clarity of thought; and an understanding of the complexities of other philosophic studies or perspectives are to be achieved.  Too many of our institutions put the cart (wide range of philosophic perspectives) before the horse (the critical analysis through which the perspectives should be examined and the techniques by which they should be reconstructed.

           It requires only one semester of a study of Language, truth, and knowledge to open a new world of thought and vision to the philosophically uninitiated.  Nothing is more relevant to the life and experience of the student than the pursuit of and emphasis upon these three areas.  Such relevance can easily be made by drawing upon the personal and conflicting experiences and thoughts of man and the related pertinent currents of multiple philosophic perspectives and thoughts of the great philosophers. 

           It seems evident that differences of opinion as to what, how, and whether philosophy should be taught on the pre-college level should be no deterrent to introducing the subject.  We need to move forward even if in separate ways after which there must be communication and comparisons of our individual efforts .  Out of our individual efforts, out of our dialogue may evolve acceptable standards for the teaching of philosophy (Critical Analysis) on the pre-college level.

           The above material has been oriented primarily toward high school students.  There is however, some (though very limited) effort in the development of approaches for offering philosophy on the pre-high school level.

             Following, with minor corrections and additions, is a lecture I presented at the Honor Society Banquet on a Wednesday evening, in 1968 at 7:00 p.m. at the Junior High School in Bemidji, Minnesota delineating my concerns and what measures are absolutely required to correct this gross failure of our inattentive monolithic pre-college institutions to take heed to the admonitions of some of the greatest minds in the history of thought. 

 

ON HOW TO THINK VS WHAT TO THINK

 

This evening I should like to avoid making pleasant platitudes and agreeable and pithy remarks.  I shall, too, forsake the usual opening joke that is so often a function of language used by speakers to warm an audience to their presentations.  Because I address an honors group and because their parents fall, in large respect, into this category also, I should like to appeal to your sense of right and reason, to your minds.       

If what I say sounds somewhat harsh, please know that it is my deep concern, whether I be right or wrong, for you and for students in general, for our nation, and for our world that induces me to speak out in regard to what I consider to be a gross and crucial failure on the part of American education, college and pre-college alike.  

May I hasten to say, however, that our schools do accomplish the near impossible, i.e., schooling for all, commendably well.

But I have not set for myself this evening the task of delineating Education’s achievements.  Rather, I wish to dwell on its failure to teach our students to think clearly, critically, and analytically.  

Scholarship, at its very least, must mean the inculcation of clarity of thought, critical, and analytical acuity.  Rarely is clear thinking acquired to any significant degree by rote learning or by parroted phraseologies.   

This, in essence, is what I would like to convey to you this evening before you are let loose upon the world, or more to the point before the world is let loose upon you.

It can be a dangerous place out there, full of quagmires of deceit, and unfair and immoral competition.  But it is also the open sesame to things of beauty, happiness, and wisdom, to glorious accomplishments for mankind.  You are the catalyst.  You can be the makers, in this case the re-makers of the world.  

Obviously we adults have botched it up -- badly.  So will you if education continues to be, as it seems to be, not any different from what we received.  

In any event, you must seek help from every conceivable source: from science, philosophy, teachers, parents, friends, your church, even from the simple wisdom and curiosity of your baby brother and sister.  

More than that, your sources constitute every corner of the earth, not to mention vaster frontiers opening to us, such as the far reaches of space, the depths of the ocean, and the micro-domain.          

It should be evident by now, however, that if these are to be the sources of your help, your advice, your knowledge, your truths, that the multiplicity of the sources means a multiplicity of conflicting opinions, truths, and knowledge. 

You must ask yourselves, then, “Who is right?”  “What are the true answers among all these purported true answers?”  For instance, which history text about the Civil war is the correct account, that of the South? The North?  A French account of it?  An English or a Russian?

Yesterday’s truths will remain yesterday’s truth because education has become the passing on from one generation of teachers to another of student teachers a body of irrelevant data of the past and present.  

The unexamined idea must remain suspect and no idea is properly examined in today’s classrooms unless the concepts of the teacher and the textbook are permitted to be contested openly and freely – unless at least two truly held conflicting opinions wage war discursively – respectfully and without rancor – not once, but whenever two minds disagree.

If one plans to enter the arena of conflicting ideas, however, one has an obligation to prepare for it and there is no more arduous preparation than that of learning to think clearly, critically, and analytically. 

Such training is made all the more difficult because one must, in the process, learn also not to destroy the spirit of humanity, love, and concern for one’s fellow man, the perspective of humility, a sense of beauty, the ability to see things whole as well as in parts. 

In other words, in becoming thinkers, we must be careful not to become pedants or snobs; otherwise, the benefits of learning will be lost.                    

But the method of developing thinkers has been traditionally relegated to the category marked “by-product.”  To some small degree, thinking does emerge as a by-product.  

But it can easily be shown that one does not become a thinker merely by being highly trained in one of the usual academic disciplines and superficially trained in some of the others.  

For instance, one becomes only a limited thinker by majoring in physics and minoring in English.  It is a fact that many good scientists know less about what is science than do some non-scientists.  

It is ever a source of amazement that people, “educated” and uneducated alike, will spend years training to play baseball or to manipulate mathematical symbols or chemicals in a test tube, but naively believe that thinking (the most difficult of all mental activities) requires no special preparation at all.  

If one wishes to become a thinker, he must take special training and education, just as he must to become a physicist, a baseball player or a pianist. 

Does any institution, any one person or group of persons have priority on truth and knowledge?  Certainly not!  That is one hot line that doesn’t exist.  There is no person on this earth, be he scientist, mathematician, teacher, or what have you, who is not a human being; and one aspect of a human being is a large propensity for being wrong most of the time.  History attests to that.

But it is by correcting our mistakes that man has acquired some semblance of truth and knowledge.  We constantly exchange new truths for those that become false or at least inadequate for our needs.  To paraphrase John Dewey, today’s truths are tomorrow’s errors.  For instance, consider the history or our knowledge concerning the shape of the earth.  

The usefulness or uselessness of an idea to society is not sufficient to insist upon or to deny its truth or falsity.  Furthermore a seeker after truth cannot afford to be afraid of truth or falsity or to be intimidated by threat of ostracism, oppression, or disagreeable looks from his neighbors, friends, and enemies.  

To do so is to deprive mankind of many possible profound or even merely useful ideas for the sake of security, comfort, the approbation of the ignorant, the frightened, or the insecure.

In education, the student should be the teacher’s respectful antagonist lest the latter slip into hard formulas of truth untested by the sharpness of curious, vigorous, and incisive minds.  

But today’s institutions are not nor will they, for years and perhaps decades hence, be ready or equipped for the classroom to become the arena of a battle of wits between the “learned” and the learner.  

Instead, the “learned” propound and the learner” accepts.  At the year’s end, truth and knowledge too often become education’s casualties because some of the most inane ideas are unquestioningly accepted.   But, in the words of the philosopher, John Stuart Mill:

No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. 

Let us, however, emphasize the three words, “as a thinker.”         

Becoming a thinker is accomplished through the act and study of thinking under the guidance of those qualified to teach that mental activity.  

For instance, some of the relevant tools are the recognition of hidden contradictions, the exposure of innumerable subtle assumptions, the art of reasoning, and the discussion of some of our most vague and abstract concepts for their multiplicities of meanings.  

Every academic discipline is founded on such assumptions and concepts that the experts, themselves, have not been taught to recognize.  Hence, they are unable to pass such education on to their students.

An examination of language, truth, and knowledge constitutes the essence of the only education that can stimulate constant self-renewal primarily because one learns thereby that the evidence is never all in. 

But language is the greatest enemy of truth and knowledge, since no symbol has an inherent meaning; while at the same time it is the closest friend they’ve got.  Were it not for language, we would be animals still. 

To the degree that one does not understand the complexities of language to that degree he is less human.  I do not mean by a study of language a study of English.  

Language is far more than merely the written and spoken word.  English too, then, is often a sophisticated form of training.

By a study of language, i.e., the attribution of meaning, I mean an examination of the meanings each of us attributes to the symbols that temporarily, momentarily, or conventionally “carry” our attributions and their impact on human relations as well as on obtaining truth and knowledge.           

Such a study enables one to discover quite simply when language is being used to express truth and knowledge as opposed to when it is used to manipulate people or to express one’s emotions.  

It is as highly technical as (and even more so for some) other academic subjects.  Yet no such courses are offered except in a few colleges or to philosophy majors.  

Our lack of understanding of language, our misuse and abuse of language, attest to the dismal failure of education in this regard.  

The closest education comes to the subject is an occasional reading of books (or very small parts thereof) like Hayakawa’s Language In Thought And Action and Stuart Chase’s The Tyranny Of Words in which he so cogently observes:                       

 

Language is no more than crudely acquired before children begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.  Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?

 

            I feel compelled to add: or to our institutions, teachers, parents, and cultures that have criminally ignored the issue for millennia?

              English courses sometimes allow a week or two for a superficial discussion of such ideas.

An example of language at work having little to do with truth and knowledge is that used by the salesperson.  For instance, when a famous actor is paid to read an advertising statement on TV, what does he mean by his words when he describes the product?  He is not an expert or an engineer.  He does not really understand his product.  His words do not convey truth or knowledge about the mechanics or quality of his product.   

The language merely functions to induce you to purchase the product or sign on the dotted line.  When politicians speak to you for hours, their conflicting words serve the function, not to give truth and knowledge, but to induce you to give them your vote.  

When you quarrel with you spouse, if you cannot determine that often the verbal tit for tat expressed with extreme intense emotion is not meant to be taken literally, it often results in divorce.                

If you have not made an in-depth study of the many functions of language, you can rarely recognize when it relates to truth and knowledge or when it merely appears even sometimes to the trained mind to do so.  

We use words like justice, democracy, courage, but their attributed meanings are as multiple as the numbers of people using them.          

By the same token you are unable to recognize the meanings attributed to the terms, ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge.’ These concepts, too, are as difficult to understand, as are the others.  

The truth and knowledge of which I speak are the jewels we hope to discover on the endless avenues of language.  I speak of them as reflective activities, not as the facts in a textbook or the instinctive “knowledge” of lower animals.  It has even been said that the only real knowledge there is “is knowing the right questions to ask.”

As to truth, there are two basic ways to acquire it.  The first, by stumbling upon it, often without awareness, in free discussion with unprepared minds; and the second by taking the long hard road of special training that results in the revelation and awareness that truth is not always a matter of hard and easy superficial parroting.  

For example, a young child is taught that her pencil is “yellow.” Most young children could easily understand what science has verified: that the pencil absorbs every other color while rejecting the yellow color.  High school seniors, and even college graduates have been taught to believe that the equation, 1+1=2 is true.  For multiple reasons, they have not learned that 1 + 1 may equal 2, but need not.  To have learned that 1+1 must equal 2 is extremely poor education even though, for practical reasons, it may be declared by some to be a trivial bit of knowledge when it is learned that it need not. 

More important, is the fact that even in the case of some PhDs, few of us have learned that language does not describe a reality beyond our perceptions; rather it expresses the content of our “minds.”       

When that kind or erroneous knowledge is compounded by the innumerable so-called facts of knowledge that constitute from 12 to 16 years of “education,” it is considerably easier to recognize the failure of education to make good thinkers of our students. 

Truth is not what it appears to be by the general public; nor is knowledge. 

Clarity of thought cannot be developed by teaching a “truth” of language in one context and ignoring its falsity in another.      

Clarity of thought in language, truth, and knowledge is achieved only to the degree to which subtle distinctions, sometimes “trivial” sometimes capable of catastrophic consequences, are exposed to the mind, and only when an awareness of such subtle distinctions brings to the whole, new significance previously unrecognized.

Rather, they constitute a viable way of dealing intelligently and objectively with the exigencies of life.  One such attitude is that of the questioning mind with which all of us seem to have been born but which some time early in the schooling process most of us have lost.

The great failure of our educational institutions is that the sharpness of the mind that this kind of education can develop is denied our students; and the coffers of our nation are a party to that failure. 

We spend billions of dollars to propagate training in subjects that we consider vital to our survival as a nation, while that very training leads to the destruction of the life-giving processes not only of our nation, but also of the whole world.  We spend equal sums on the arts and sports arenas and gymnasiums for the aggrandizement and prestige of our schools and as a place of entertainment for our children’s parents rather than fortifying the very basis or our society – the ability and willingness to think well.           

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not opposed to reasonable expenditures for such purposes.  Some of my most pleasant memories stem from music, the arts, and other forms of school-oriented entertainment.  In some ways they, too, aid in the development of incisive minds.  

But such studies will not give us the incisive thinking, the insights, the concepts that are needed to solve our social ills and to avoid the destruction of the world’s environment. 

It is a matter of priorities because our educators and our parents have assumed that simple declarations of our most tangible needs and our immediate desires are synonymous with truth and knowledge; and students tend to accept the word of authority as positive proof of truth and knowledge.          

  Of course one must have respect for authority.  But respect is not synonymous with blind acceptance.  It is always easy, however, to follow the dictates of authority when they are in accord with our own needs, emotional or physical.  Out of the assumed truths of propaganda about immediate and selfish needs, we arrive at the wrong priorities.  

It is not likely that this could happen to a citizenry educated to understand the many ways in which language is used for ulterior motives – ways in which language has no bearing on truth and knowledge but can be used successfully to bend one to the motivations or the tyranny of other minds – most often manifested in the opinions of a conforming majority – local or national, and sometimes in a vociferous minority.   

Our students do not retain much of their rote learning when they leave the classrooms to embark upon life; but if their education were designed to open their minds to many avenues of thought, to consideration of opposing views, to an examination of their pet prejudices and preconceptions that have become the triggers to their emotions, they could not shuck such an acquired attitude as easily as they forget textbook facts.  

Attitudes of open-mindedness are not memories and once acquired (though they can be destroyed) unlike memories, they can not be forgotten or ignored. 

Rather, they constitute           a viable way of dealing intelligently and objectively with the exigencies of life.  One such attitude is that of the questioning mind with which all of us seem to have been born but which some time early in the educational process most of us have lost.

Freedom of inquiry that is nurtured by questioning minds, and that entails the right and the capacity to inquire, is one of our fundamental precepts of democracy.  But our schooling establishments (with some rare exceptions) though obliged to “teach” democracy, do in most instances destroy the capacity for this fundamental precept.  

It can be shown, statistically, that in American schooling institutions, the number of students asking questions and the number of questions they ask are inversely proportional to the number of years the students spend in classrooms.

Without considering the role of the teacher’s contributory attitudes, I shall turn now to one of the causes for this negative development in our schools that manifests itself in the de-emphasizing of clear thinking.  I should like first to quote John Dewey, a renowned philosopher in the history of American education:

 

Personality must be educated, and personality cannot be educated by confining its operations to technical and specialized things, or to the less important relationships of life.   (Reconstruction in Philosophy,” p. 475)

          

Our industrially oriented civilization, including our educational monolith, has, at great cost to our nation and our world, ignored Dewey’s admonition.  

Moreover, our teachers and school authorities are unwitting, or even probably, willing accomplices.  [I say this on the basis of over fifty years of pioneering introducing critical analysis classes on the pre-college level.  

Even as recently as a few months ago, I was ignored when I offered to teach the course again in the local high school where in 1960 I introduced it and taught it for eight years until moving on to teaching on the college level.  The course was not continued with the excuse that a teacher of the subject could not be found to replace me.

The demands of business (big and small) have infiltrated to the core or our conforming schooling institutions.  

The latter have evolved into diploma and degree mills, grinding out what amounts to union cards (for specialized categories of students) stamped “physicist,” “chemist,” “mathematician,” “teacher,” and so on.  

They do, of course, prepare us for national survival against military attack.  But “national survival” loosely interpreted, too often constitutes a threat to the survival, the environmental wealth, the well-being, the sovereignty, and the autonomy of other nations.  The end result can be the end of survival for all.  

Whatever is the significance of preparation for survival, however, we have been (in the process) blinded to the equally dreaded enemies to which categorical training leads – democracy’s worst enemies – conformity and mediocrity.  

Our schools have become the training camps and supply depots for the soldiers not only of the military but also of industry, the kitchen, the sports arena, and the local garage.          

A frightening prospect is the clear evidence that many of the skills presently taught will, in the near future, become obsolete.  

What of the unprepared mind?  Is it not, also, obsolete?  

 After all, the mind has the capacity to change only to the degree to which it had been prepared to be open-minded and flexible.  

But such preparation having been sadly neglected, such minds become liabilities (in need of repair) rather than assets to a world crying for solutions to staggering social, political, religious, ethical, cultural, not to mention educational ills.           

This is so, largely because our students have not been offered course studies in value, in examining philosophical concepts – social, political, ethical, etc., no understanding of which can be achieved to any significant degree in the absence of studies about the nature of language, truth, and knowledge.  These are the fundamental categories to all understanding.

Ultimately, it is the attitude of people that influences the course of events.  

Yet, it is the development of attitudes we neglect most.  

The world becomes only what its inhabitants allow it to be.  And the people receive primarily only what the tyrannical and traditionally stratified majority opinion will allow with little protection for minority opinion.  

Thus, the progress of the world toward the solution of such problems as pollution, population growth, crime, bad and greedy business ethics with excessive lobbying influence on governing policies, unfair treatment of ethnic minorities, and so on is slowed down to a snail’s Sunday stroll by the dearth of originality of thought -- by the calcified industrial and majority oriented conformity disguised in a deceptive reflection of individuality.

We can no longer ignore the ills of the world in the name of nationalism, nor can we solve them if we do not recognize that our local, parochial and provincial truths, whether they come from teachers of from the “man in the street,” are no longer truths in other and larger contexts.

It follows then, that so long as our schools and our “educators” ignore the significance of study into the nature of language, truth, and knowledge, we cannot expect our students to develop attitudes of open-mindedness; certainly we cannot when they are made to believe that they are already acquiring truth and knowledge and final answers.  

When they do so believe, they feel no need for any mental exercise except memory with which to sponge up the established "truths."  

If our teachers do not teach our students that language, truth, and knowledge are complex concepts not to be accepted in their mediaeval and stereotyped forms, how, then, will they ever learn that textbook data, teachers’ dicta, encyclopedic facts and scientific, social, and educational pronouncements are only provisional truth and knowledge playing an immediate and practical role in a present situation awaiting however, the corrective evidence that continued study, inquiry and diversity of new ideas inevitably bring?

Almost everyone knows that a questioning and curious mind cannot be developed by feeding old ideas into the mental hopper and by ridiculing new ones, however, irrelevant they may be.  

But new ideas are often undesirable and frightening merely because they disturb the authoritative ego, the comfort, the security, and the false sense of stability generated by the old. 

Only if teachers cease to act as authorities on final truths and instead become authorities on what are the prevalent and conflicting opinions of the day is it possible to create an atmosphere of open-mindedness.  

I strongly urge you young honor students to seek out such teachers and to subject yourselves predominantly to their inspiring influences. 

In the atmosphere of their classrooms, new attitudes are encouraged and instilled, the students' original curiosity can be nursed and nurtured back to its natural propensities, apathy will die and stagnating conformity will dissolve. 

If once you experience the view from the mountaintop you no longer will be content with the limits of the valley.

 

                                                SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella