Atheist Activist Flunks 7th Grade Critical Thinking Exercise

Why are New Atheists attacking a 12 year old girl?  Because of what she said in front of the Katy Independent School District board:

“Today I was given an assignment in school that questioned my faith and told me that God was not real. Our teacher had started off saying that the assignment had been giving problems all day. We were asked to take a poll to say whether God is fact, opinion or a myth and she told anyone who said fact or opinion was wrong and God was only a myth,” Wooley told board members.

Over at Hemant Mehta’s blog, his fans and allies are trying to smear little Jordan as a Liar (!) for saying this.    Mehta himself claims:

It’s not hard to spot Wooley’s mistake. She’s equating “commonplace assertion” with “myth.” That’s simply not accurate.

So let’s look at the actual assignment, as it has been posted all over the internet:

Yes, that looks like the assignment everyone is talking about.

The first thing I note is that the assignment makes it look as if the three choices of factual claim, opinion, and common assertion are mutually exclusive when they are not.  There are many things that are commonly asserted that are also factual or opinion.  For example, it is commonly asserted that Barack Obama is President.  It is also fact.  It is also commonly asserted that Richard Dawkins is an Islamophobe.  It is also opinion.

Hemant Mehta himself demonstrates this confused thinking.  He writes,

“The United States is the greatest country in the world.”

Is that true, false, or just something that a lot of people believe even though they can’t prove it?

Or, to put it in the language of a middle school reading class, is it fact, opinion, or a “commonplace assertion”?

The answer is obvious: It’s a commonplace assertion. People can give you their reasons for why the U.S. is or isn’t the best, but it’s not something either side can prove.

No, Hemant, the answer is not obvious.  For I would label it an opinion instead of a commonplace assertion.  That people can give you their reasons for why the U.S. is or isn’t the best, but it’s not something either side can prove, is precisely what we expect opinions to look like.  It’s silly and irrational to insist this claim is a “commonplace assertion” and not an opinion when it is clearly both.

So what’s going on with this assignment?  What we clearly need is how the three options were/are defined.  Note also that one option is “factual claim,” not “fact.”

Since this sounds like one of those stock school lessons, I found some presentations on the internet which were probably written either by students or teachers.  This one defines the three as follows:

Factual claim – a statement that claims truth and contains no value judgments  Ex: common colds are viral illnesses

Commonplace assertion – a common, unfounded belief  Ex: you get a cold when you get wet

Opinion – a personal view or belief based on emotions or interpretations of fact  Ex: Having a cold is the worst feeling in the world

Commonplace assertion.  Unfounded?  Er, that is defined as “having no foundation or basis in fact.”

Here is another that defines them similarly:

Factual claim – a statement that contains no value language and claims truth

Opinion – contains value language

Commonplace assertion – an unfounded belief

Here’s another – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/162903711497642569/

So are the New Atheists correct is attacking the 12 year old girl as a Liar(!)?  Of course not.  If “commonplace assertions” are meant to be “common, unfounded beliefs,” it is perfectly reasonable for any 12 year old, or anyone else for that matter, to interpret that to mean “myth.”   The wild-eyed “Jordan is a Liar!!” accusation from the New Atheists is defeated.

The irony in all this?  The obviously correct answer for “There is a God” is “Factual claim.”  Note, I did not say “fact” as the assignment does not ask for “Fact.”  I said “factual claim,” the very descriptor the assignment uses.   It simply cannot be denied by any intelligent person that the claim, There is a God, is “a statement that claims truth and contains no value judgments.”

In fact, let’s do Jordan’s assignment:

  1. Factual claim – a statement that claims truth and contains no value judgments
  2. Factual claim – a statement that claims truth and contains no value judgments
  3. Opinion – a personal view or belief based on emotions or interpretations of fact
  4. Factual claim – a statement that claims truth and contains no value judgments (note that people would not need to know if this was true or not in order for it is be recognized as a factual claim).
  5.  Factual claim – a statement that claims truth and contains no value judgments
  6. Opinion – a personal view or belief based on emotions or interpretations of fact
  7. Commonplace assertion – a common, unfounded belief
  8. Commonplace assertion – a common, unfounded belief
  9. Commonplace assertion – a common, unfounded belief

Now, according to Jordan’s teacher and Hemant Mehta, the correct answers group “There is a God” with “People who wear glasses are smart” – unfounded beliefs.  If this is the intended answer to this exercise, it does indeed, intentionally or unintentionally, try to teach children that God is a myth.  Meaning that 12 year old Jordan is smarter and more perceptive than the average New Atheist activist blogger.

A final thing to note is that the assignment is inappropriate for a public school in that it coerces children to make a public claim about God belief.  There is no way to answer the assignment about the claim “There is a God” without inviting and encouraging discussions/thinking about God in the classroom. As agents of the state, public school teachers must not discuss God in the classroom.

You can know that I am right on this point because even the school board conceded wrong-doing in their statement:

the principal determined that the classroom activity included an item that was unnecessary for achieving the instructional standard…..this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued. As a result, the activity will no longer be used by the school, and the teacher has been advised and appropriate personnel action will be taken.

In summary, Hemant Mehta and his faithful fans don’t seem to have a good grasp on critical thinking.    He writes, “In her speech, Wooley talked about how she knew God existed — bringing up “evidence” like the Bible. But again, it’s objectively wrong to say “God exists” is a fact. “God exists” isn’t a fact, just like “God doesn’t exist” isn’t a fact.”

Er, the assignment didn’t ask if God’s existence was a fact.  It asked if the claim “There is a God” is a “factual claim.”  Of course it is.  It would be like saying, “There is life on other planets.”

Mehta then shows how some teachers could try to sneak their atheism into the classroom:

The Board members said they would “look into it,” but there’s nothing to look into. The teacher was absolutely right in saying “God exists” is a commonplace assertion. The question itself was intended to provoke discussion.

Yes, for Hemant the Militant Atheist Activist, I’m sure the claim “God exists” is an assertion having “no foundation or basis in fact.”  It’s just that people like him should not be able to teach their personal views about God in the classroom and disguise them as something “to provoke discussion.”

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30 Responses to Atheist Activist Flunks 7th Grade Critical Thinking Exercise

  1. Isaac says:

    Those sneaky atheists trying to “teach the controversy” again.

  2. TFBW says:

    Oh my. They really are teaching these ghastly definitions of “fact”, “opinion”, and “commonplace assertion”. Never mind the religious aspect: they’re committing crimes against philosophy here and presenting it as an exercise in critical thinking. Who do we pillory for this? A search of the terms produces lots and lots of near-identical examples, none of which have citations or even claims of authorship.

  3. John says:

    I agree with your analysis.Especially,before I even started reading this post,I saw that the teacher wrote ”Factual claims” instead of just ”Facts”,which means that ”There is a God” can easily be classified as a ”Factual claim”,and the teacher is obviously wrong when she insisted that it was wrong to say that.

    But another thing is,when I wrote my comment:

    ”Also,I just found out even some Christians are asking themselves whether or not this account of the girl is accurate.

    Some say it is important to hear from the other side and that it seems a tiny bit faked as well.”

    And you responded with:

    ”I see. So you won’t answer my questions, but you will make a sneaky attack on a child. Typical gnu.”

    I didn’t write my above comment with much forethought,and it seemed to have blown back instead.

    I am neither a gnu nor an atheist.I am actually a Christian.

    I was not attacking her.I was only reporting what I saw some other people claim about this incident.

    But I might have either worded it wrongly,or,because I was in a bit of a rush,I wrote it poorly and it because of that,it looked like as if I was an atheist or as if I was even attacking her in some way.

    Sorry about that.

  4. Ilíon says:

    I’d not be surprised to learn that this young girl is raised in a “fundie” home, for we “fundies” are frequently among the least superstitious — which is to say, the most critically thinking — of persons.

  5. Doug says:

    Bravo, Michael! — once again demonstrating critical thinking rather than using the label as a smoke-screen to hide its opposite as Gnus so often do.

  6. The original Mr. X says:

    Oh my. They really are teaching these ghastly definitions of “fact”, “opinion”, and “commonplace assertion”.

    That was pretty much my reaction.

    The two problems that leap out most to me are that the “factual claim” – “commonplace assertion” dichotomy seems rather arbitrary and artificial (a statement can “claim truth and contain no value judgements” and also be “unfounded”), and that “contains no value language” is a bad metric for separating factual claims from opinions (“murder is objectively wrong” comtains the value term “wrong”, but is still a factual claim).

    Really, it’s no wonder American public discourse has fallen so low if this is the sort of [word redacted] they’re teaching.

  7. Dhay says:

    Is a tree frog land dwelling? Yes? Then a peregrine falcon is the fastest land dwelling creature. (Or is it a thread-spinning spider when carried by the Jet Stream, or by a hurricane?) Absent an authoritative definition of what qualifies or disqualifies a ceature as being “land dwelling”, “cheetah” — note the teacher’s illiterate capitalisation — vs “peregrine falcon” or “spider” is a matter of judgement or opinion.

    Philosophers such as Edward Feser, Aristotle and Aquinas agree that “There is a God” is proven definitely true for some values of “God”. Richard Dawkins appears to consider the idea incoherent — presumably as incoherent as the idea of “free” countries — though “incoherent” was oddly not an allowable answer.

    People can be “free” — whatever that means here, which is not specified — but last I knew it was impossible for countries to be free. Note the teacher’s illiterate failure to capitalise “Earth”.

    “What goes around comes around” is a true factual claim relating to fairground rides; if the teacher meant to refer to the metaphor (commonplace assumption) derived from fairground rides, this should have been stated. Absent that statement, this has two correct answers, not one.

    “People with glasses are smart” is equally ambiguous: how big are the glasses, do they contain water, squash, beer or whiskey, and how often are they being refilled; does “smart” refer to intelligence (factual claim) or to appearance (opinion); and the teacher has omitted obvious words such as “some”, or “all”.

    “One bad apple can spoil the bunch” is a true factual claim (ethylene gas given off by one rotting apples accelerates rotting in all those exposed to the gas); if the teacher meant to refer to the metaphor (commonplace assumption) derived from actual apples, this should have been stated. Absent that statement, this has two correct answers, not one.

    I don’t have a lot of patience with this very badly designed and highly ambiguous and contentious assignment.

    Our teacher had started off saying that the assignment had been giving problems all day. What a surprise; and what a daft teacher, that she could neither see the obvious beforehand — that it’s a really bad assignment — nor learn from feedback.

  8. Allallt says:

    Actually, you are right. By having “factual claim” instead of “fact”, you are right that “God exists” is a factual claim. I would argue, even, that “commonplace assertion” is a redundant category if you include the broader “factual claim” over “fact”.
    What I mean by that is that I can’t think of a single statement that isn’t either a factual claim or an opinion. “Commonplace assertion” should only exist to differentiate between a “fact” and an unsupported claim. This is highlighted by the fact there is no place for “false”; all “false” claims are still factual claims, in that they claim to be true. All commonplace assertions are subsumed under the broad umbrella of “factual claims”. (Not to mention some of the sentences are so ill-defined that it is impossible to ascertain whether they are true, creating a whole other category. Plus ‘incoherent’ and ‘paradoxical’ would also be categories other sentences fit into.)
    While the 12 year-olds aren’t under any obligation understand the philosophy that underpins all of this, the teacher should have understood it enough to better design the task or understood that they don’t understand and avoided the task.
    That said, Jordan remembered the vocabulary of “fact” and “opinion” perfectly well when she testified to the school board, but she still replaced “commonplace assertion” with “myth”. Then she testified that she was told God is a myth. This simply isn’t what happened.

  9. Michael says:

    While the 12 year-olds aren’t under any obligation understand the philosophy that underpins all of this, the teacher should have understood it enough to better design the task or understood that they don’t understand and avoided the task.

    The teacher was clearly incompetent. You don’t write “20 points” on an assignment not intended to be graded. And you should understand your own assignment, such that you don’t misinform students that a factual claim is the same as a fact.

    That said, Jordan remembered the vocabulary of “fact” and “opinion” perfectly well

    Apparently, she remembered the verbal descriptions perfectly well, as the written vocabularly listed “factual claim” and not “fact.” I think what we have established here is that the teacher verbally changed the descriptors in the classroom.

    when she testified to the school board, but she still replaced “commonplace assertion” with “myth”.

    AS I have shown, this was a most reasonable interpretation, given the student was required to group God belief with the crazy myth about people in glasses.

    Then she testified that she was told God is a myth. This simply isn’t what happened.

    Is that a factual claim, opinion, or common assertion?

    If you are correct, then given the ill-conceived nature of the assignment coupled to the teacher’s ignorance/incompetence, the confusion is all on the teacher.

  10. Dhay says:

    Allallt > Then she testified that she was told God is a myth. This simply isn’t what happened.

    Wrong, on this evidence.

    “How did the word myth come into it?” She [another parent] says she asked her son. “He said we didn’t know what commonplace assertion meant so we asked the teacher. She said the definition of commonplace assertion is myth. So, we referred to it as myth in the class after that.”

    http://www.fox26houston.com/news/40914434-story

  11. Allallt says:

    Dhay,
    If true, then the teacher needs a full disciplinary. If true, that teacher went into a class with an assignment she didn’t understand, told the students the answer, called God a myth (without elaborating what she means by myth – she could be ‘widely believed, but unsupportable’, we don’t know) knowing that children will belief myth to mean false.
    And, again, if true, this isn’t a short lapse in judgement because it happened across more than 1 class.

    However, I don’t think it should be ignore that these people haven’t publicly spoken up until after the SI said they couldn’t find anyone to corroborate the original accusation.

    Here’s what I would do: I would look at the best students’ note books. If the teacher really said “commonplace assertion” is synonymous with “myth”, the best students will have made that note, and they’ll have made it before the controversy went public.

    If you find that note in a few good students’ notes (in the right place, on the right page, in the same pen) then the teacher needs a proper disciplinary. Because, if these accusations are true, that teacher is not fit to teach critical thinking.

    (And I say that as a peer. I’ve only recently given up teaching – to become a student. And, of course, to outrun controversy about the fact I taught all my students God isn’t real.)

  12. Michael says:

    If true, that teacher went into a class with an assignment she didn’t understand,

    We have already established she didn’t understand the assignment. Everyone agrees she had the class score the statements as “facts” when the assignment instructs them to score them as “factual statements.” Since knowledgeable consensus is that “fact” does not equal “factual statement,” we have therefore proven she did not understand the assignment. This means that all further claims about what she claimed must be seen in the light of this information.

    called God a myth

    The assignment calls God a myth. Granted, it does so in a sneaky way, but it clearly does so. Again,

    1. claim #8 is clearly intended as an example of a common assertion.
    2. Claim #8 is widely recognzied to be a common myth.
    3. The teacher insisted the correct answer to the assignment was to group “There is a God” with a common myth.

    The intended message of the assignment was to categorize God belief as a myth.

  13. Allallt says:

    If she’d done the assignment correctly, and had the following categories: “true”, “false”, “opinion” and “unsubstantiated statement” there would be less of a problem.
    There would be even less of a problem if the statements were better defined. The glasses one in particular is too vague because some people who wear glasses… (you can figure it out).

    But, knowing that is the proper structure of the assignment (or, at least, how I structured the assignment when I did something similar and how my English did it and how my littlest brother recently had it at a different school), I’d be more prepared to call it a confused assignment than an intentional message. God exists would be grouped with other unsupported claims.
    (Although, ironically, there does appear to be a positive correlation between short-sightedness and intelligence: http://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2163349)

  14. Michael says:

    If she’d done the assignment correctly, and had the following categories: “true”, “false”, “opinion” and “unsubstantiated statement” there would be less of a problem.
    There would be even less of a problem if the statements were better defined. The glasses one in particular is too vague because some people who wear glasses… (you can figure it out).

    None of this is relevant. The only thing that is relevant is the actual assignment that was given. And if you don’t want a problem, then don’t violate the constitution and interject God into the classroom. If claim #2 was not on the assignment, there would be no problem. And we have yet to hear an explanation for why a God claim was used as part of a public school assignment.

    But, knowing that is the proper structure of the assignment (or, at least, how I structured the assignment when I did something similar and how my English did it and how my littlest brother recently had it at a different school), I’d be more prepared to call it a confused assignment than an intentional message.

    Or, the correct answer for claim #2 was “Factual claim” and the teacher confused everything by erroneously thinking “factual claim” = “fact.”

    God exists would be grouped with other unsupported claims.

    Thar she blows! Like I said, the assignment sneakily promotes atheism. For only an atheist would group God belief with other “unsupported claims” for only atheists would label God belief an “unsupported claim.” So, as we can see, the assignment was trying to coerce the children into choosing the atheist answer as the correct answer.

    If we are to group “There is a God” with other myths, other unfounded claims, and other unsupported claims, we are violating the law and promoting atheism in the classroom.

    (Although, ironically, there does appear to be a positive correlation between short-sightedness and intelligence:http://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2163349)

    Which is completely irrelevant to the assignment and that classroom.

  15. TFBW says:

    If claim #2 was not on the assignment, there would be no problem.

    No constitutional problem. The lesson as a whole would still be a steaming pile of crap which promoted confusion rather than clear thinking, and that’s problem enough.

  16. Allallt says:

    Not only an atheist would make that categorisation. I know religious people who know they can’t defend the claim of God’s existence. The people who would make that categorisation are the people who are right.

  17. Dhay says:

    Allallt > And, of course, to outrun controversy about the fact I taught all my students God isn’t real.

    Then I question your own competence and judgement as a teacher. In a British school, the proper place to discuss religious beliefs is the Religious Education class, where it is perfectly acceptable to educate pupils in the views of people adhering to the various religions and their denominations, and to the views of those like yourself who are humanists or atheists. RE is, or should be, even handed and neutral: for you to attempt to indoctrinate your pupils in your atheism is way out of order.

    That you were not picked up on it tells me two things: you did not teach in a heavily Muslim area, such as Bradford or Coventry, where pupil and parent outrage would have brought the Head Teacher and School Governors down on your head very quickly and very hard; the other I already knew — pupils don’t report back what happened at school unless it was very exciting or upsetting.

    Did you abuse your natural authority as a teacher to impose your controversial views on your pupils; or did you bully or intimidate your pupils — like this teacher did.

    Allallt > However, I don’t think it should be ignore that these people haven’t publicly spoken up until after the SI said they couldn’t find anyone to corroborate the original accusation.

    It’s no great surprise if the KISD School Board got no corroboration: parents get to hear little of what goes on in class, so are generally unable to answer or to complain; pupils keep their heads down and definitely don’t piss off the teacher.

    If you had read my linked article (H/T Michael’s next post), revealingly entitled, “More parents weigh in on ‘God is a myth’ argument, school backlash worries”, you would have been very aware that the parents who did speak up were careful to stay anonymous so that their children (and possibly themselves) would not suffer backlash. (In Britain, someone bright enough and involved enough to raise their concerns would very possibly or probably be a School Governor themself, with somewhat divided loyalties.)

    Backlash, and fear of backlash, is a huge concern of Katy ISD parents. FOX 26 has talked to many in connection with several stories about the school district, who echo the concerns about publicly criticizing Katy ISD. The common thread is that speaking up will only make things worse for their child, and not spark any rational discussion about how the district could do a few things better.

    The intimidation factor could be one reason why the district couldn’t find another student that would back up Jordan’s claims. But Deanna says, it also could be that they simply didn’t try very hard. “I sent two emails to the principal and I haven’t heard a thing,” she told FOX 26.

    Looks like the school is itself bullying, not just one teacher. And:

    “My son said it was not argumentative in their class. He says no one pressed her or argued with her.” But, Deanna said she wanted an explanation on that, too. “I said why not? Why didn’t anyone say anything? And he said, ‘well, I guess because at the beginning of the year she told her class that she has a dark side, and they don’t want to see that side come out.'” Two other parents told FOX 26 their children also heard the teacher say the same thing at the beginning of the year, intimidating them into not challenging her.

    Yep, that teacher created an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and threat of punishment via withholding of grades, which I gather are very important in the US educational system. And:

    FOX 26 spoke with another parent who said their child was in Jordan’s class that day. That student also told her parents what happened in class was disturbing. “She was very upset, almost in tears because of the argument with the teacher,” the mother said during an Internet talk show hosted by the Republic Broadcasting Network. “The teacher told all of them it was going to be graded, and if you don’t put what she tells them, then you’re going to get it wrong.”

    Yep, agree with an out-of-order doctrinaire teacher or be punished. And:

    The school district also claims that the assignment was never intended to be for a grade, despite the paper indicating that section was worth 20 points. Deanna says her son certainly thought it was for a grade. “He told me that he absolutely was under the impression it was a graded assignment. That’s why they had the discussion of whether it would be right or wrong,” Deanna said. “That’s why he felt pressured, and he actually gave in, and changed his answer.”

    Young Jordan certainly fears the teacher; she has asked to be moved:

    Jordan’s mother, Chantel Wooley, says her daughter is going through a difficult time right now. Thursday, she says, the principal of West Memorial Junior High approved her request to move out of that teacher’s classroom.

    Allallt > God exists would be grouped with other unsupported claims.

    Each statement is one sentence only: all nine of them; there isn’t a single supported claim in the whole assignment.

    I agree with Michael’s “Thar she blows! response to that. You clearly demonstrate a level of anti-theist prejudice so strong that it has become unconscious and unselfconscious; you are blind to it.

  18. Dhay says:

    Allallt, what are you talking about? Who are you talking to?

    Would you please quote name or sentence, in what otherwise becomes an incoherent drive-by.

  19. TFBW says:

    Allallt said:

    The people who would make that categorisation are the people who are right.

    That’s a commonplace assertion among those atheists who tend toward more extreme views on the matter. Thing is, better philosophers than you and I have disagreed on this question, so it’s a bit rich to go pronouncing who’s right and wrong as though it were a settled matter. Others might interpret such behaviour as an attempt to indoctrinate a particular ideology if you said as much in a teaching role.

    Also, what did these alleged religious people actually concede? That “there is a God” is a statement that can’t be proved, or that it’s in the same category as “people with glasses are smart?” There’s a subtle difference.

  20. Allallt says:

    Sorry, is your complaint about what you perceive as propaganda or about what you perceive to be a violation of the separation of the church and state? You keep shifting the nature of your complaint, but don’t acknowledge it.
    You complained that ‘god’ would be grouped with the ‘myth’ about people who wear glasses being smart, which isn’t a myth and wouldn’t be grouped with God. Now you call that irrelevant.

  21. iblase says:

    they’re all factual claims. As is “Michael Jordan averaged 1 point per game”. A factual claim is not the same as a fact. What are schools teaching these days?

  22. Dhay says:

    Ah, Allallt, I see you are still requiring us to play guessing games to discover who you are addressing.

    I also see that your reading comprehension is abysmal. What part of …

    (Although, ironically, there does appear to be a positive correlation between short-sightedness and intelligence:http://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2163349)

    Which is completely irrelevant to the assignment and that classroom.

    … do you not understand!

  23. Andrew says:

    I think the categorisation represents muddled thinking. I would classify the three types of “claims” as:
    – factual claims
    – opinions
    – loose factual claims

    1,2,4,5 and 8 are factual claims. They map to specific objective descriptions of reality. They may be true or false.

    3 and 6 might be factual claims or might be opinion. It depends on whether the person making the claim believes there is an objective standard by which the claim can be evaluated, or whether they are merely providing a personal evaluation. “I find manatees ugly” is opinion (technically, a fact claim about your thought processes rather than manatees). “Manatees are ugly” is, strictly speaking, a claim of fact, but common usage sometimes omits the “I find” qualifier when making a subjective claim and instead expresses it using objective language. We infer the subjectivity.

    (Note that I use “I find” rather than “I think” deliberately. “I think” may be a synonym for “I find”, or it may express the result of a chain of reasoning, at which point we’re probably talking claims of fact.)

    7 and 9 are what I’d call “loose factual claims”. There is some set of circumstances in which the claim is “true”; sufficient that it’s a useful principle, but insufficient that it is true in any absolute sense. But it is expressed as a philosophical metaphor, not a fact, which clues us in to the different nature of the claim. (In contrast, “people with glasses are smart” is not a metaphor, thus it is a specific factual claim that can be true or false).

    The “commonplace assertion” language is inherently misleading, in that it is trying to classify the claim based on its truth or frequency, rather than on what it is claiming. The critical distinction with 7 and 9 is that they are widely understood to be “loose” and “metaphoric”, not that they are somehow “non-factual”. It would be possible to “disprove” either 7 or 9 by showing that the advice was misleading when applied generally.

  24. Doug says:

    So we all pretty much agree: none-too-clever teacher; none-too-clever assignment. So, let’s ask the (more difficult) question: how do we go about teaching critical thinking in the first place — especially given that curriculum-developers and teachers are ill equipped to exercise the very thing that they purport to be wanting to instill in our future leaders?

  25. Dhay says:

    Allallt > And, of course, to outrun controversy about the fact I taught all my students God isn’t real.

    Dhay > … pupil and parent outrage would have brought the Head Teacher and School Governors down on your head very quickly and very hard.

    I had a chat with my sister, who has been thirty years a teacher, to ask her what she expected would happened if a teacher acted as you did, and a parent complained: her reply agreed closely with what I said to Allallt above; and she added that in Britain, a complaint that a teacher had been imposing his atheism upon his pupils (as opposed to teaching them in RE what Hindus, Buddhists … Christians and atheists believe) would result in definite censure from the Head Teacher, and if referred upwards to the Governors would probably result in a written warning.

    You were guilty of unprofessional behaviour, Allallt.

  26. Allallt says:

    I’m sorry that “(And I say that as a peer. I’ve only recently given up teaching – to become a student. And, of course, to outrun controversy about the fact I taught all my students God isn’t real.)” didn’t come across as obviously being a joke. My fault.

  27. TFBW says:

    Doug said:

    … how do we go about teaching critical thinking in the first place …

    Recognising a bad example is much easier than providing a good one. I think it would be presumptuous to suppose that we can provide good teaching material on the subject, and such presumption seems to have been partly to blame for the bad material in the first place. Let’s just aim for pointing out the badness and suggesting that replacement material be produced by someone with certified competence in the field.

  28. Dhay says:

    Allallt > … didn’t come across as obviously being a joke.

    I am greatly relieved to discover my mistake; and having now had reassurance that you have not taught religious or anti-religious claims to your pupils as fact, I entirely withdraw my previous criticism of your professionalism.

  29. Allallt says:

    Dhay
    I did occasionally teach critical thinking. But it was normally with regard to medical data, newspaper interpretations and communications, correlation/causation claims and sensational anecdotes.
    I’d never have dared question religious claims in the position of power, for I don’t see I have that right. I do it on a blog to peers as I think that’s the only ethical audience you can have: peers.
    Not to mention the pragmatic question of whether it will ever be a good use of time.
    I did have to touch on religion occasionally with regard to my primary role as a GCSE geography teacher. Culture and religion play big roles in population dynamics. But I also had to be extraordinarily careful, because I was also simultaneously an EFL teacher. I often had to made sure I moderated not only my language but also the language of the students. Putting ethical language into a discussion about UK Muslims being a driving factor in population growth in the UK through both migration and higher birth rates is a uncontentious fact… but how some students might laden that with ethical language is probably apparent.

  30. Dhay says:

    Allallt
    Understood.

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