"Outside the Beltway" on January 18, 2010 posited, "College Students Lack Critical Thinking Skills, But Who's To Blame?" It cited a study headed by New York University sociologist Richard Arum, concluding that most American college graduates could not distinguish fact from opinion.
The failure to think critically resulted in the failure of educated Americans to determine the cause of an effect and thus could easily be swayed by emotion and political spin.
This skill is vitally important to forging a civil society.
The difference between fact and opinion is simple. A fact is something that can be supported by evidence and an opinion is a belief that may or may not be backed up by evidence. A fact is objective and an opinion is subjective.
At one time, newspapers carried an "Opinion Section." The reader clearly knew that what was stated was not necessarily fact. Today that line has been blurred and most of what is said is opinion.
This study immediately made me think of what is happening in Arizona where they want to eliminate La Raza Studies on the grounds that it promotes racism and is anti-American.
La Raza Studies in Tucson offers 43 sections of Chicana/o studies and has been functioning for over a dozen years.
As evidence of and justification for eliminating the program Tom Horne, the former Superintendent of Public Instruction and now the state attorney general, cites Occupied America and Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Horne's opinion is that Occupied America because the title implies that the United States occupied Mexico. The fact is that in various editions I pointed out that the title referred to the occupation of the western hemisphere by European people in 1492. The various editions make it clear that Chileans, Peruvians, Central Americans and Mexicans are Americans. The term does not belong exclusively to one country and the United States acknowledged this in 1890 when it formed the Pan American Union.
Horne has said, "They are teaching a radical ideology in Raza, including that Arizona and other states were stolen from Mexico and should be given back," he continued, referring to the Mexican-American studies classes. "My point of view is that these kids' parents and grandparents came, mostly legally, because this is the land of opportunity, and we should teach them that if they work hard, they can accomplish anything."
Fact: the United States did invade Mexico. Further, he cannot cite evidence that the book says that the Southwest should be returned to Mexico.
Fact: that the purpose of Occupied America is to encourage everyone to think critically about U.S. history. Another fact is that up until as recent as fifty years ago, Mexican American children were commonly segregated in Arizona schools and neighborhoods.
Footnotes function as evidence. The establish fact and support what the author is saying. Horne, however, insists that what he believes is fact. Unfortunately many people do not think critically and base their conclusions on Horne's uneducated opinions.
Horne objects to the use of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The fact is that even conservative educators assign Freire's book because of its critical pedagogical method.
La Raza Studies focuses on the method because it wants its students to read different books, including Occupied America critically.
In the late 1960s there was a similar hoopla surrounding the use of Edwin Fenton's inquiry method in California. Then Superintendent of Schools Max Rafferty called it subversive because it led students to question.
This is disconcerting because critical pedagogy is nothing new. One of the greatest American educators, John Dewey, introduced "reflective thinking" in 1910.
It goes back to the ancient Greeks and Socrates. It influenced theologians such as Thomas Aquinas.
Leading U.S. law schools use the Socrates model. Even schools of business are responding to the need for critical thinking and use the Socrates model.
Horne says, "The evidence is overwhelming that ethnic studies in the Tucson Unified School District teaches a kind of destructive ethnic chauvinism that the citizens of Tucson should no longer tolerate."
If we think critically, is this Horne's opinion or is it fact? Horne has said in Mexican American Studies is racist because it uses the name La Raza Studies. Is this fact or opinion?
Fact: "la raza" does not literally translate as "the race." It is more commonly used to mean "the people" "my compatriots."
Horne has claimed on many occasions that he walked with Martin Luther King in 1963; it is important to note that he has never offered any evidence that he was there or that he understands what King was about.
Horne should probably read King's 1968 speech where he says, "ÔÇªI've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land." When Latinos today talk about la raza, they are talking about a people who share a common history. Mexicans are comprised of people of all colors. There is no Mexican race unless you are referring to the Native Americans.
It is time that we think critically. In other times, when opinions contradicted facts and resulted in character assassination, the issue would be settled by a duel. However, we have gone beyond the times of the Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
I would recommend that we ask the respected scholar Gary Orfield to convene a conference and discuss the facts and opinions raised of Tom Horne who has refused to discuss the issues rationally.