Teaching critical thinking to high school students: US Government research/presentation (5.1 of 6)

In this post, AP teacher Carl Herman shares his teaching assignments on critical thinking for California 12th grade students in “US Government” and “Economics.”

The following are my teaching assignments on critical thinking for California 12th grade students in the semester-long courses, “US Government” and “Economics.” I offer them for non-profit use:

This is the final action: students explore their interests with research, writing, and presentation to the class. At this point of the course, the previous sections from this article and my sharing of current events have opened students’ minds that the world they thought existed in government and economics was a fairy tale believed by the ignorant. This conclusion is justified from the objective and independently verifiable facts, and young-adult confidence that they really do know some things more powerfully than adults (please recall this fact from when we were their ages).

This last project for student research, writing, and class presentation is divided into four parts:

5.1: Basis in academics and state teaching standards

5.2: Revealing US government history 1

5.3: Revealing US government history 2

5.4: The assignment, supporting historical voices

This is 5.1:

Critical thinking skills in action: policy analysis of ‘current events,’ past and present

Instructions: In order to understand current events, people may have to discern among competing statements regarding facts, meaning, and policy opinions. This assignment has you:

  • Read a history of  US government “current events” that are typically omitted from high school US History texts, included in many AP texts, and always included in comprehensive college courses. These accounts are not contested to my knowledge; that is, non-controversial for factual accuracy. Current events of our present cannot be understood without this history to place the present into context.
  • Research one current, important issue of interest for you. Compare different sources of reports in good faith effort to receive comprehensive facts.
  • Use critical thinking skills to determine the key facts as you best see them, reflect and communicate what the facts mean for you, and state your best policy response from your current understanding in writing.
  • Use your written information as notes and create a visual to report your findings to the class.

To begin, read the sections below by the due dates. Prepare to discuss the section questions listed below. Each reading section will have the short-response questions due at the start of the next class period (details below). As you read, research the documentation at your interest. Please do independent research at your interest.

At the end of all the reading, select one current event from the list provided, or propose your own for my approval. Consider the questions and resources for each topic, do your own research, and answer all twelve questions at the end of the assignment. I suggest that you access the electronic version. This activates the numerous Internet links, and allows you to cut and paste the questions for your word processing program.

Print a copy of your answers to help present your findings to the class.

This assignment is 67 points:

  • 23 for written responses to questions: 1 point per question (10 for #3, a brief), 2 for grammar and spelling.
  • 22 for your oral brief to the class (3-12 only): 1 point per question (5 for #3), 5 for visual element (Prezi, Animoto, video, etc. (up to five extra for great work), 2 for clarity.
  • 22 for reading comprehension short-responses: 2 points per 11 sections.

Sections:

  1. Purpose of Social Science, challenge to get the facts: pages 5-9 
  2. Competent citizenry: three of history’s greatest voices: 10-13 
  3. Reviewing California Content Standards and critical thinking skills: 14-18 
  4. A revealing current event of our United States: MCA: 19-25
  5. Revealing current event: waterboarding and its reporting by corporate media: 26-34
  6. Past “current events”: Native American treaties, Mexican-American War: 35-38
  7. Past “current events”: US overthrow of Hawaii, Spanish-American War: 39-44
  8. Past “current events”: World War 1, CIA wars, Vietnam War: 45-50
  9. King family’s civil trial for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: 51-56
  10. Critical thinking skills in action: policy analysis of current events assignment: 57-64
  11. Great voices in history offer insights for effective citizenry: 65-74

Reading comprehension short-responses instructions: This assignment will help your learning (and grade). “Short-responses” can be brief; they can be bullet points. They must clearly demonstrate your understanding of the ideas. Please note: do not directly copy your responses with classmates: you are welcome to benefit from class discussions to improve your ideas, but plagiarized work results in zero grades for giver and receiver, plus school policy consequences.

1. Purpose of Social Science, challenge to get the facts: pages 5-9:

  • The History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools articulates the context or reason to learn US history, government and economics. Explain briefly what this document says about the focus of these classes. Include the skills we want students to master from them, how to teach controversial topics, and the importance of critical thinking skills.
  • Expert testimony is from someone with academic training and/or professional experience to walk an audience through facts of a complex issue. Explain why clear explanation and independently verifiable comprehensive data are the two ways to evaluate the effectiveness of expert testimony.
  • Explain why a person of reasonable intelligence can determine for him or herself when a basic law is being outrageously violated when the person knows the law; that is, the explanation of an alleged expert or the president of the US is not needed to verify the outrageous violation. Invent or explain an example with a rule or law to show your understanding of this idea.

2. Competent citizenry: three of history’s greatest voices: 10-13:

  • Explain Cicero’s admonition against people who avoid a really big responsibility (Cicero was a leader to defend Rome’s constitutional government from those who would subvert it for dictatorial power unlimited by the rules of a constitution).
  • Gandhi wrote that he wanted to serve the British Constitution and God in communicating to the public the gap between British law and what the British were actually doing with grossly unequal treatment. Explain Gandhi’s strategy to remove this “misunderstanding.”
  • Explain what Dr. King meant that “silence is betrayal.” Explain if this is what J.K. Rowling also meant in her remarks to Harvard graduates in 2008.

3. Reviewing California Content Standards and critical thinking skills: 14-18:

  • Explain why understanding and applying the fundamental principles and moral values (inalienable rights) of American democracy is a big deal.
  • Explain the three components of critical thinking and civic competence that this section reviews.
  • Explain how Lincoln’s advice of “unimpassioned reason” can overcome cognitive dissonance.

4. A revealing current events of our United States: MCA: 19-25:

  • Explain what the Military Commissions Act of 2006 allows.
  • Explain US Constitution Bill of Rights guarantees that MCA violates.
  • Explain how the Mexican-American War of 1846 was a clear violation of a treaty by the US, or how the US could legally avoid the Adams-Onís Treaty.

5. Revealing current event: waterboarding and its reporting by corporate media: 26-34:

  • Explain what case law is, and its use to determine if a specific act already decided by the courts is a lawful or unlawful act in the present.
  • Explain what Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government published about their review of the US’ four most-read newspapers about labeling waterboarding as torture.
  • Explain what the polling data says about Americans’ trust of US corporate media reporting. Given the examples of NY Times coverage of the UN Summit for Children, Occupy Wall Street, and your personal experience of corporate media, explain the degree that you trust US corporate media reporting.

6. Past “current events”: Native American treaties, Mexican-American War: 35-38:

  • Explain what a treaty means under Article Six of the US Constitution; that is, when a US president signs a legal agreement and it’s ratified by at least 2/3 of the Senate, how obligated is the US to follow what it says?
  • Explain your analysis (what you see when you take something apart and study it) of the 1869 Board of Indian Commissioners’ report.
  • If a person knows what a treaty means under the US Constitution, knows the basic ideas of the Adams-Onís Treaty, and knows the “spot” where President Polk claimed that Mexico invaded the US, explain if that person needs anybody’s help to know if the president is telling the truth or not about who invaded whom, and on whose soil blood was shed.

7. Past “current events”: US overthrow of Hawaii, Spanish-American War: 39-44:

  • Explain how the US overthrow of Hawaii’s government was unlawful or lawful.
  • Explain whether the US takeover of the Philippines was an expression of spreading democracy, or imperialism to control strategic resources (like a naval base) and make corporate profits.
  • Explain whether US support of a vicious dictator in Cuba is an expression of spreading democracy, or imperialism to control resources and make corporate profits.

8. Past “current events”: World War 1, CIA wars, Vietnam War: 45-50:

  • Given Mexico’s obvious response to reject Germany’s invitation to invade and attack the US if the US declared war with Germany first, explain how the Zimmerman Telegram posed a threat to US national security, or whether there was no national security threat.
  • After multiple CIA overthrows of democratic governments, explain what Operation Northwoods would do to make the American public more willing to support direct US military use to overthrow governments.
  • Explain how the Vietnam War was an expression of spreading democracy, or imperialism for control and corporate profits.

9. King family’s civil trial for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: 51-56:

  • Explain the evidence that supports the King family and civil trial jury’s conclusion that the US government assassinated Dr. King.
  • Given the evidence from the civil trial, explain your analysis of  the validity of Ray’s initial guilty plea.
  • Explain the burden of proof someone takes when they assert an idea is “crazy” and/or a “conspiracy theory.” For the claim, “the idea our own government assassinated Dr. King is a crazy conspiracy theory,” what can you legitimately ask the person to explain and prove?

10. Critical thinking skills in action: policy analysis of current events assignment: 57-64:

  • Explain what current event you’d like to research from the list or the idea you’re proposing to me, and why this topic is of interest.

11. Great voices in history offer insights for effective citizenry: 65-74:

  • If American leaders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln could talk with you about what it means to be an American, would you give them a few minutes of your time? Well, they can, and did in writing with the intent that you would consider their thoughts in your own expression of American citizenship. Please give them the attention their lives deserve with those few minutes of attention with careful reading.
  • Paraphrase your three most favorite quotes from the list, and why they’re your favorites. Your paraphrasing may be concise if it’s accurate; including the use of bullet points if they’re helpful.

1. Purpose of Social Science, challenge to get the facts

To understand why we study social science in California public schools, we find the answer here: History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, pgs. 2, 7-8

“The study of continuity and change is, as it happens, the main focus of the history–social science curriculum. The knowledge provided by these disciplines enables students to appreciate how ideas, events, and individuals have intersected to produce change over time as well as to recognize the conditions and forces that maintain continuity within human societies.

As educators in the field of history–social science, we want our students to perceive the complexity of social, economic, and political problems. We want them to have the ability to differentiate between what is important and what is unimportant. We want them to know their rights and responsibilities as American citizens. We want them to understand the meaning of the Constitution as a social contract that defines our democratic government and guarantees our individual rights. We want them to respect the right of others to differ with them. We want them to take an active role as citizens and to know how to work for change in a democratic society. We want them to understand the value, the importance, and the fragility of democratic institutions. We want them to realize that only a small fraction of the world’s population (now or in the past) has been fortunate enough to live under a democratic form of government, and we want them to understand the conditions that encourage democracy to prosper. We want them to develop a keen sense of ethics and citizenship. And we want them to care deeply about the quality of life in their community, their nation, and their world.”

This framework encourages teachers to present controversial issues honestly and accurately within their historical or contemporary context. History without controversy is not good history, nor is such history as interesting to students as an account that captures the debates of the times. Students should understand that the events in history provoked controversy as do the events reported in today’s headlines. Students should try to see historical controversies through the different perspectives of participants. These controversies can best be portrayed by using primary sources, such as newspapers, court decisions, and speeches that represent different views. Students should also recognize that historians often disagree about the interpretation of historical events and that today’s textbooks may be altered by future research. Through the study of controversial issues, both in history and in current affairs, students should learn that people in a democratic society have the right to disagree, that different perspectives have to be taken into account, and that judgments should be based on reasonable evidence and not on bias and emotion.

This framework proposes that critical thinking skills be included at every grade level. Students should learn to detect bias in print and visual media; to recognize illogical thinking; to guard against propaganda; to avoid stereotyping of group members; to reach conclusions based on solid evidence; and to think critically, creatively, and rationally. These skills are to be taught within the context of a curriculum that offers numerous opportunities to explore examples of sound reasoning and examples of the opposite.”

The above passages from the California Department of Education explicitly support your learning critical thinking skills and applying them for your analysis of our most important current events. The Framework emphasizes the fragility of democratic forms of government and the need for developing competent citizenry within a constitutional republic.

We shall do so.

The following assignment will take a few hours of your time to read, and further time to verify factual accuracy of the claims. It will then take a few hours to research a current event of your own and answer the questions for your analysis. That said, if you’ve spent more than a few hours wondering about how truthful politicians and corporate media really are, and you’ve wanted to develop the critical thinking skills to know for yourself the extent that factual claims are true regarding policies that are literally “life or death” to millions, can uplift or impose tyranny to billions, and direct trillions of our dollars, then this investment of reading is worthwhile.

My challenge in teaching this to you is how to appropriately communicate the facts of historical and current events while bridging gaps of history unknown to you. That statement doesn’t appear to be challenging at all, at first. I mean, that’s what all teaching does, to communicate the facts, yes? But you will discover the challenge of getting to the facts of history that is central to a government’s interests with resources, money, and power in this reading 🙂

Please allow me to explain this deceptively simple challenge.

Part of my professional contribution to you is my experience working with leadership of both political parties and US corporate media. The insight people gain who do this is similar to the discovery in the movie The Wizard of Oz when our protagonists seeking intelligence, love, courage, and home see the veil of power pulled back. The story shows that the dominating images and sounds of government are contrived distractions to elicit obedience. We see a human hand upon these knobs and levers that prefers dictatorial power (literally the power to say what we do) rather than educate and empower the will of the people in a democracy, just as our above passage from the California teaching Framework states is the tendency. This wisdom allows us to recognize distractions and propaganda from politicians and media for what they are, and address political leadership, our wizards, face-to-face with the power of objective facts, and without fear.

The following paragraph of my background is what I also shared with your parents/guardians in my letter to them:

“For 18 years I helped create and grow the citizens’ lobby, RESULTS  now in over 100 US communities and 7 countries, working with economics and policy to end domestic and global poverty. RESULTS has been a leading voice for US Head Start programs that reach over a million children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, James Grant, credited RESULTS with saving over one million children’s lives a year from increased funding we won for cost-effective programs that reduce infant mortality. We championed two UN Summits for heads of state: the 1990 World Summit for Children (largest meeting of heads of state in world history) and the 1997 Microcredit Summit (topic of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics). The UN and nations were so impressed with our work that they asked RESULTS to manage nations’ progress toward the Microcredit Summit’s goals. Today, over 100 million of the world’s lowest income families now have access to credit; a total population greater than the United States. This saves millions of lives, tremendously improves quality of life, and in every historical case has reduced population growth rates and promoted wiser environmental management.”

Part of my work was to help frame and document information on 200-300 policy briefs for members of Congress and heads of state. We practiced the highest professional and academic standards for the accuracy and documentation of our information. Moreover, we helped anticipate and counter likely attacks on our information from political opponents.

Since 1997 I’ve focused my “hobby” on economics research, writing, and lobbying (teaching is my career). The short version: I helped create The Public Banking Institute by initiating lobbying for a California state-owned bank for at-cost credit, and am a leading advocate for reforms in government CAFR data (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports), and credit and monetary reform (for example, I was one of six international speakers at Claremont Colleges’ conference on monetary reform in April, 2012). Since 2009, California State University at Sonoma and over 50 affiliated universities invited me to publish my articles for Daily Censored; I also publish on Washington’s Blog, and Examiner.com from 2009 to 2014. Other sites republish from there, with a popular article having page views at least seeing the title in the tens of millions.

“Project Censored is one of the organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and our broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism.”  – Walter Cronkite, 2004, US news journalist likely the most-respected in all US history

Btw: I had assumed my leadership in the above areas would result in my work in government for policy development and realization. Because both parties’ leadership has so far declined to commit to any of the above policies, I’ve worked as a teacher since 1984. I take teaching social science with the same passion as I do for its real-world application: I’m a National Board Certified Teacher, and was honored by two Los Angeles mayors and USC for being among the best teachers in the city.

My experience working with state legislators, Congress, three US presidents, two UN Summits, and directly engaged with US corporate media coverage qualifies my “brief” to you (this assignment) as “expert testimony” to compare objective facts of current events with the rhetoric of political leadership and corporate media. Evidence also indicates that I’ve been effective to appropriately create assignments for high school-age students to learn critical thinking skills and apply them to understand current events.

Importantly, expert testimony is never to be believed. That is, since The Enlightenment, authorities are never to be believed on their word but to be used as possible guides to point to objective data.

I will always encourage you to never believe anything I say regarding government, economics, and history. If I’m successful in my teaching you critical thinking skills, you’ll be able to ascertain credibility for factual claims on your own. Indeed, anyone of ethics will never ask for “belief,” but transparently provide evidence for others’ thoughtful consideration. Those of us who are serious to get to the facts in social science are deeply appreciative just how hard it is to do so, and apply professional and academic standards in our communication.

Expert testimony is only any good to the extent it does two things for the reader/audience:

  1. Help understand available facts rather than confuse or obfuscate.
  2. Transparently present facts that are objectively true. That is, the testimony shines light upon data that thereafter anyone can confirm or refute. This removes any need for belief, as the facts will speak for themselves.

Successful expert testimony therefore allows an audience that had been confused by an issue at first to understand it in concept and factual detail. The audience would thereafter be able to look at the data and understand the issue for themselves. 

For example, baseball is confusing to someone new to the game. Imagine you became friends with a foreign exchange student who was familiar with baseball, but never saw a game. You two go to a game. If you explained the rule of when a runner is safe or out at first base, your friend would have a noticeable breakthrough in understanding what was going on. Indeed, your friend might ask your opinion on a close play, but could independently see with full confidence when runners are safe or out at first base.

Importantly, if a runner was out by twenty feet and the umpire called the person safe, and the “official” media at the game also said the runner was safe, your friend could determine with full confidence that the game was rigged.

Important rules are meant to be crystal-clear to everyone. Egregious violation is clear to anyone informed on the rules, paying attention, and with the intellectual integrity and moral courage to tell the truth.

Similarly, if you understood basic Constitutional rules, you also might ask someone’s opinion on a “close play,” but when there are egregious violations of the law you wouldn’t need anyone to confirm the obvious. The facts would tell you the whole story.

This is as true with laws of war and torture as they are with laws of stop signs while driving, and perhaps your family’s rule about taking out the trash after dinner (8 PM after dinner is close enough to be simply reminded; not having it done by 8 AM the following day is a clear violation).

So, students and young citizens, in hope that my experience speaks to you, and that important current events mean life or death to millions, opportunity or misery to billions, and the power of trillions of our dollars that will have effects on these conditions, I respectfully request your full attention to this lesson.

I understand that I’m asking for your time to read, research, and write. My respect for your time and attention is balanced by my experience of what seems to be required to achieve your learning of critical thinking skills to understand current events for what they are rather than the noises and flashes of distracting colors that come from politicians’ and corporate media’s mouths.

My intent is to empower you with this skill for the rest of your life: about the next 70 years.

“At first blush, a man is not capable of reporting truth; he must be drenched and saturated with it first.”  – Henry David Thoreau, I to myself: an annotated selection from the journal of Henry D. Thoreau, 1837. Thoreau, like Abraham Lincoln in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, recognized claimed “reasons” for a “defensive war” against Mexico were obvious lies when inspected.

2. Competent citizenry: three of history’s greatest voices

Let’s consider three of history’s greatest voices to understand the fragility of democracy and the demand of your civic competence to defend it. These historic “current events” were at the heart of having democracy rather than dictatorship.

First: Marcus Tullius Cicero, Rome’s leading political figure who stood for their constitutional republic as would-be dictators and paid-off Senators sought to subvert their government to an oligarchic dictatorship. Cicero rejected an offer of money and power to silence his criticism of Rome’s move toward unconstitutional dictatorship. He felt it was his duty to voice the long-term costs and benefits of the choice between citizen responsibility to stand for their constitutional rights or to submit to dictatorial tyrants.

One of the most important lessons of history is to understand that Cicero and his colleagues failed, as had similar statesmen defending Greece from internal subversion to dictatorship four hundred years earlier. More of Roman historians documenting this fall, that the US Founders deeply considered in creating our Constitution, is here.

The American Founding Fathers read and embraced Cicero in consideration of how to create a US Constitution with the best hope to survive tyranny from within our own country. They understood the danger that the United States must have competent citizens in recognizing emerging facts of ongoing “current events,” or else suffer similar self-destruction as Greece and Rome’s democratic republics into dictatorial and war-mongering empires, and then collapse.

Cicero wrote to encourage his fellow citizens to embrace the responsibility of defending their constitutional republic from dictatorial forces, and the fragility of freedom if they chose short-term pleasures:

“We denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammeled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.”  – Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Duties: The Extremes of Good and Evil,  44 BCE, translated by H. Rackham (1914).

Rome’s faction that wanted oligarchic/dictatorial power rather than a constitutional republic targeted Cicero, assassinated him, then publicly displayed his dismembered body.

Second: Mohandas Gandhi was an attorney who acted for realization of the civil rights in the rhetoric and religion of the British Empire. When the empire refused to recognize those civil and Christian rights, Gandhi led the movement for Indian independence from British imperialism. As an attorney, Gandhi had the academic training and professional experience to powerfully voice the hypocrisy of the Empire’s promises of democracy, civil rights, and rule of law versus the reality of denying the public their power of vote, crushing civil rights, and then using the law to criminalize the public’s voice for those rights. Gandhi also shone light upon the hypocrisy between the British’ declared religious values of Christianity versus their brutal attacks and public enslavement. Gandhi asked British Christians to honor the one commandment Jesus gave them: love.

Gandhi asked that the British show their love by granting full political and civil rights to all, and with equal protection under just laws. The British response was propaganda and force to retain their dictatorial and unlawful control.

Gandhi communicated to the public through speech, media that would accept his voice, and his own newspaper. He found that he had to address that “current events” as propagandized by the British government was very different from the actual facts:

“One thing we have endeavoured to observe most scrupulously, namely, never to depart from the strictest facts and, in dealing with the difficult questions that have arisen during the year, we hope that we have used the utmost moderation possible under the circumstances. Our duty is very simple and plain. We want to serve the community, and in our own humble way to serve the Empire. We believe in the righteousness of the cause, which it is our privilege to espouse. We have an abiding faith in the mercy of the Almighty God, and we have firm faith in the British Constitution. That being so, we should fail in our duty if we wrote anything with a view to hurt. Facts we would always place before our readers, whether they are palatable or not, and it is by placing them constantly before the public in their nakedness that the misunderstanding… can be removed.”  –  Mohandas K. Gandhi, Indian Opinion (1 October 1903) 

Another quote you’ve probably heard that is attributed to Gandhi but unsourced, explains the British government’s strategy to stop activists’ work for recognition of their rights:

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. And then you win.”

Regarding your opportunity to earn extra credit, I invite you to watch and then do some kind of review of the 1982 movie, “Gandhi.” It won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. For the HD official trailer, view here.

Need an excuse to ask someone you like in our class on a date? You’re welcome 🙂

Third: Dr. Martin Luther King stood for civil rights and equal protection under American laws for all. Dr. King learned from Gandhi, and powerfully communicated the 100 years of American hypocrisy between the legal promises of citizenship and rights versus the reality of brutal segregationist oppression by government. For the last year of his life, Dr. King addressed the Vietnam War. His plan for the summer of 1968 was to lead a march, and then camp-in at Washington, D.C. until the US government ended the Vietnam War, and directed war resources to end poverty and invest in US hard and soft infrastructure. He was assassinated after his last speech before beginning the march to D.C. in April, 1968.

Dr. King also had to address Americans’ difficulty to look their “Wizard” in the eye; to address their government directly and without fear:

  “‘A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ That time has come for us… The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.

… A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. …  A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. …We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

… These are revolutionary times.”   – Dr. Martin Luther King,Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence

An excerpt from Dr. King’s article, The Purpose of Education:

  “Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

And one surprise bonus for citizen competence in a participatory democracy in order to build a brighter future: Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling at Harvard’s 2008 Commencement:

“Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans to gain or maintain power… What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy… If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

As these quotes assert, part of responsible citizenry is to hold political leaders accountable for the public good. To do so, citizens must understand the fundamental rights promised by government and the facts of current events. This is required to avoid tyranny, and constructively use the power of our group work funded by our group resources (another word for government).

To naively trust power to the people in government is against the intent and design of the US Constitution. Indeed, without intelligent and courageous citizen leaders, the United States would never have become a nation. The US was created only from courageous citizens who drove a political wedge between those who valued and demanded their political and civil rights promised in their Bill of Rights, and British government “leadership” who would take those rights away to increase their own power and monetary profit.

Knowledge of your rights, powerful communication of those rights, and the courage to stand for your rights are much of the California teaching standards for the course on US Government, as you shall read next.

3. Reviewing California Content Standards and critical thinking skills

Principles of American Democracy Content Standards: California State Curriculum

12.1: Students explain the fundamental principles and moral values of American democracy as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and other essential documents of American democracy.

12.2: Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the scope and limits of rights and obligations as democratic citizens, the relationships among them, and how they are secured.

12.3: Students evaluate and take and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principles of civil society are (i.e., the autonomous sphere of voluntary personal, social, and economic relations that are not part of government), their interdependence, and the meaning and importance of those values and principles for a free society.

12.6: Students evaluate issues regarding campaigns for national, state, and local elective offices.

12.8: Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the influence of the media on American political life.

12.9: Students analyze the origins, characteristics, and development of different political systems across time, with emphasis on the quest for political democracy, its advances, and its obstacles.

12.10: Students formulate questions about and defend their analyses of tensions within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a balance between the following concepts: majority rule and individual rights; liberty and equality; state and national authority in a federal system; civil disobedience and the rule of law; freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial; the relationship of religion and government.

These principles of American democracy can only be practiced and realized through civic participation with the current events of the day, our most important policy decisions. Rational civic participation, of course, is only possible through mastery of critical thinking skills.

This is a big deal, and the purpose of this assignment.

The California Framework and Content Standards, the admonitions of a few of humanity’s most honored historical figures, and I hope now your own conclusions have prepared you to provide your full attention and care to this assignment. Your success empowers your citizenship in ongoingly building a brighter future.

The only missing component is your declaration and promise that you have the will, the intellectual integrity, and moral courage to accept being a competent citizen. You may make this declaration and promise to yourself, now, if you so choose.

Literally billions of human voices ask this of you, with all their heart. Do you accept?

Let’s review our last assignment on critical thinking skills with attention to how they apply to analysis of current events.

Part of the political climate you enter as young adults is public ambiguity as to what the facts are concerning important political actions, irrational and vicious argument, and disengagement from public participation in policy decisions. This is why it’s difficult for almost all students your age to tolerate listening to most politicians and media pundits. You feel that politicians’ and media’s words are at least lies of omission, and that they definitely do not respect American citizens enough to fully and honestly educate them on the issues, and work as the public’s partners to represent their educated views in policy.

For those paying attention, such politicians and media voices who go after the comprehensive facts, attempt to educate the public, and work for the glaring economic needs of the public are recognized as rare national treasures.

The condition of the American public’s confusion and temptation for apathy call for a breakthrough in critical thinking skills for civic competence. Your competence with critical thinking skills and participation can, and should, be a voice of reason with all you touch. As I presented in your first assignment on critical thinking, I suggest that what’s needed for your next ~70 years of citizenry are your mastery of three specific skills:

  • Discern fact from spin.
  • Participate in civil conversations based on fact.
  • Engage in policy decisions.

We will help each other master the above skills daily in our class discussions.

A note about “controversy:” the etymology of this word is a Latin compound that roughly means talking against each other. To “converse” means to be talking together. In democracy, talking against each other, controversy, is predictable and welcome. As we discussed in the assignment on critical thinking, policy consideration begins with people of intellectual integrity and moral courage helping each other get the facts. Facts are the same for everyone, objective, and independently verifiable. We then welcome multiple points of view as to the meaning of those facts; in other words, controversy. Controversy allows the entire audience depth of discussion and multiple policy options. Therefore, we embrace controversy. With your mastery of critical thinking, you will be a voice of reason for the facts, encourage rational discussion with diverse views as to interpretation and policy proposals, support a democratic vote, and respect the losing policy as a possible future option should the winning policy not perform to expectations.

The etymology of “diverse” is to intentionally separate. Encouraging diversity adds depth, unforeseen perspective, and variety of choice; all good in political discussion when based on factual accuracy.

In our consideration of government and economics, we will embrace controversy and diversity. We will use prima facie evidence and help each other clarify facts. We welcome multiple views based on fact.

We touched on the psychological term, “cognitive dissonance” in the last assignment. Let’s consider it deeper here. When one’s beliefs are challenged by factual evidence, people without intellectual integrity and moral courage will reject the facts in order to cling to their belief system.

A lie is a story known to be untrue. When someone refuses to consider facts, then whatever is communicated without those facts is at least a lie of omission. Being afraid means that one is not facing something difficult. Rejecting facts from fear of changing what one believes is both an act of fear and irrational.

You wouldn’t want to still believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny, would you?

Cognitive dissonance tells us that when the facts collide with our beliefs, there are two possible outcomes. One is that we have the intellectual integrity and moral courage to embrace factual analysis. The other is to reject the facts, keep one’s falsified belief system, and choose lies and fear.

Which outcome do you prefer?

Do you have the intellectual integrity and moral courage to follow the facts, wherever they go?

This is simply the definition of “education,” is it not?

Even though we’re discussing this now, and even though all of you want to commit to the truth, some of you will fail the test of cognitive dissonance at least once. It’s not about your age; my experience of communicating challenging information to adults, even among our most successful and educated, has shown me that adults are also subject to cognitive dissonance.

Remember, “fact,” by definition, is objective, measurable, and independently verifiable. Therefore, when we discuss facts there is no element of belief or political point of view. Anyone can check facts and they’re the same for everyone who checks them.

Moments will occur in your life when people you wish to engage in factual consideration will choose a belief system and reject objective evidence. They will choose fantasy over reality. An aspect of cognitive dissonance is that this choice will appear as slightly sub-conscious; that is, you may notice irrational avoidance tactics to keep the fantastical belief system away from the shining light of the facts.

These moments may feel awkward. However, they are entirely human and necessary to understand and move through because we choose competent citizenship to lead our lifetimes of consideration of objective evidence in current events.

You may wish to stand with Lincoln related to this issue:

“Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.–Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.” –  Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, 1838

The easy resolution is for the person involved in a moment removed from reason to recommit to  the facts. However, what might happen is that the person rejecting facts will become resentful at having this behavior become visible. The person may irrationally argue, withdraw, and/or later campaign to speak badly of those who merely asked to engage with the facts. These are likely to be real-world examples of ad hominem and straw man arguments. I invite you to support these people to recommit to our best documented factual evidence.

Please note again: our class practice will be to cooperate in understanding the objective and comprehensive facts, and then welcome diverse interpretation of the meaning of those facts and any policy position. 

This is academic freedom.

I’m about to present two current events for your respectful consideration that may evoke cognitive dissonance because they reflect US government policies in apparent direct violation of the US Constitution. Those will be followed by documented examples of revealing US history that in my professional experience are crucial to understand if we want proper context on current events in our life in the present. These are summaries of the comprehensive and objective facts that I communicate in good faith as a professional educator. 

As with any ethical good faith prima facie legal argument, I welcome any correction of alleged facts that are in error, inclusion of additional facts for better comprehensive understanding, and analysis that will help bring the facts into a policy perspective. If the evidence presented in the following cases cannot be refuted, we honor the conservative legal process of prima facie that these facts will hold as our best available evidence.

Rejecting facts because one doesn’t like them, one is uncomfortable with them, or that one’s beliefs are challenged by them, has no legal or academic standing and are dismissed in professional academic environments. This includes our class. 

What does that mean?

It means that if the following summaries of current events and previous US history cannot be refuted either directly or through a more comprehensive factual understanding, we’ll hold those summaries as our best explanations.

It means that when we see clear lies of omission, we have the intellectual strength and moral courage to say what’s right in front of everyone to see; a kind of “emperor has no clothes” obvious statement of fact.

For example, within the lifetime of almost all of your parents, US President Richard Nixon and his administration lied to the American public for two years in the Watergate Scandal. Media had various coverage: from simply repeating White House assurances that the President’s office was completely removed from the scandal, to damning indictments of direct White House involvement in multiple and serious criminal acts.

The American public believed President Nixon for over four months after evidence became public in the media, re-electing him by a landslide in 1972. But eventually, with ongoing commitment to understand the facts, discern who within political leadership and media were reporting on facts and who was not, and eventual disclosure of “smoking gun” evidence (1), the facts of that ongoing “current event” became clear.

This is exactly what Gandhi told you was required, to “never to depart from the strictest facts… Facts we would always place before our readers, whether they are palatable or not, … placing them constantly before the public in their nakedness…”

And yes, such a scenario begs the question of why at least some in US corporate media would choose to merely repeat White House assurances and fail to communicate powerful facts.

We’ll consider that.

I hope you’re intrigued.

Here’s our first revealing current event…

**

Endnotes:

1 The “smoking gun” evidence were tape-recordings the President made in order to write books upon retirement. In discussing this scandal, the President ordered the CIA to ask the FBI to end their investigation. Importantly, the reason Nixon gave is that it would “open the whole Bay of Pigs thing.” Nixon’s Chief of Staff wrote this referenced the Kennedy assassination. Transcript here. Related transcripts to put this passage in context here. A 2-minute video from UK History documentary here (The Whole Bay of Pigs Thing). AP US History teacher John Hankey made a powerful documentary on this and other verifiable facts, Dark Legacy. Search online to watch it.

**

Note: Examiner.com has blocked public access to my articles on their site (and from other whistleblowers). Some links in my articles are therefore now blocked. If you’d like to search for those articles other sites may have republished, use words from the article title within the blocked link. Or, go to http://archive.org/web/, paste the expired link into the box, click “Browse history,” click onto the screenshots of that page for each time it was screen-shot and uploaded to webarchive. Then switch the expired URLs with webarchived ones of that same information. I’ll update as “hobby time” allows; including my earliest work from 2009 to 2011 (blocked author pages: here, here).

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Alfredo Sanchez

    lets be clear boys and girls, the last true American generation was the NAM one. Teaching critical thinking to this generation when 3 in 4 H.S kids will opt out on a High school physics or chemistry in favor 4 some liberal worthless class like art history is just monumental.

    … better to just call in sick and have the substitute play them a film, that’s about as much critical thinking you’ll get from the average H.S kid.

    • Carl_Herman

      You assert statistics without sources, which I doubt are close to accurate, Alfredo. Why do you attack high school students when the data I provide shows the opposite?

      As someone who does this job, I found students overwhelmingly able and interested in this project. As I documented: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/02/teaching-critical-thinking-high-school-students-1-6.html

      Latest data: 91% percent of my students reported in anonymous semester-ending surveys that they learned “more” (49%) or “way more” (42%) in my classes than from previous department classes. The average grade for all students’ “overall opinion of Carl Herman as a teacher” was A+. At all five school events for Seniors to recognize the teachers who most contributed to their overall education during high school, I was honored at all five (football, baseball, pom/cheer, basketball, performing arts). I was also recognized as the school’s “Most Inspirational Teacher.”

  • ShankyS

    I find the students addiction to electronics astounding. Few read anymore. The use of electronics over pen and paper is dulling their learning ability imho. Does not imprint on the brain as well. Thanks for this series. I’ll use it in the background to work with my two rising hs students. Critical thinking is dangerous to teach when the educators are lacking such skills themselves. Lordy, someone will surely claim I’m raising a terrorist or worse if I teach them to think independently. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful work.