You Can Lead Students To Knowledge, But How Do You Make Them Think?

Thoughtful young man
Like many new professors, perhaps, I initially thought that my primary responsibility in the classroom was to present course content to my students in a manner they would find interesting and informative. I was sharing the knowledge that formed the core of the course that I was teaching. Sharing knowledge is important, but I now believe that it comes second in terms of what universities should be delivering to their students.

More important is teaching students how to work with knowledge: how to think critically and creatively, form considered opinions, voice those opinions in a clear and efficient manner in either written or spoken form, and modify those opinions in light of new information. Teaching students how to think well and to communicate their thoughts clearly helps them in virtually all life’s contexts, from board rooms to operating tables. Moreover, given the existence of the internet and ever more efficient search engines, acquiring knowledge is relatively easy; using it in novel and relevant ways is more challenging.

Unfortunately, teaching students how to think is difficult not only on account of logistic issues (i.e., the time and resources involved) but also because of challenges in terms of the psychological defences students have that get in the way of learning critical thought. Recent internet-based resources are providing new ways of surmounting the logistic barriers to open-ended assignments (e.g., which means that professors now have the means of including open-ended assignments in virtually any course context, thereby providing the students with the practice they need to hone their skills. But to maximize the effectiveness of this practice it is important that the psychological barriers to thought be understood. What are these barriers and how can they be surmounted?

The goal state
When attempting to solve a problem it makes sense to first define the goal state. The goal of effective thought is captured well by William James, the Jimi Hendrix of thought. James spent a great deal of time thinking about issues and communicating his thoughts clearly. Thus, his view on thought, as presented below, represents the perspective of an expert.

The process here is always the same. The individual has a stock of old opinions already, but he meets a new experience that puts them to a strain. Somebody contradicts them; or in a reflective moment he discovers they contradict each other; or he hears of facts with which they are incompatible; or desires arise in him which they cease to satisfy. The result is an inward trouble to which his mind till then had been a stranger, and from which he seeks to escape by modifying his previous mass of opinions. He saves as much of it as his can for in this matter we are extreme conservatives. (William James, 1907)

James’s last sentence is a massive understatement. What is represented in this quote is the sort of process we want our students to engage in, but this process, I argue, does not represent the manner in which most students come to opinions. It is a process that incoming university students have little experience with. Moreover, every student has defences in place that work against this sort of rational re-arrangement of opinions.

Ubiquitous indoctrination
We are not born with the capacity to reason. In fact, the sort of deep reasoning skills thought to underlie such phenomena as moral decision making often do not develop until the teenage years or later. However, from birth each of us is surrounded by a world filled with others who hold opinions. As Skinner put it, “Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.” We are surrounded by those who believe certain perspectives are correct and, through processes of indoctrination and modelling, we come to accept these perspectives ourselves in the absence of rational thought. These indoctrination processes are especially powerful if the perspective under consideration is ubiquitous or if espoused by people for whom we have respect or admiration.

Thus, students who enter our classrooms do indeed come in with a “stock of old opinions”, but many, if not most, of these opinions were not born of rational thought. Rather, they are opinions adopted from one’s family, culture, and other relevant aspects of one’s pre-university context (e.g., the media). These opinions may include views that do not fit together but, absent critical thought, these incongruities may remain undetected, a claim highlighted by example later in this article.

What is an educator to do? How does one effectively introduce their students to rational thought, if such thought is not natural to them? To some extent, this challenge contains aspects of teaching any new skill; for example, teaching the processes involved in playing a musical instrument. Any skill is developed by repeated exposure to effective practice. For practice to be effective, students have to see the value of the practice and need to be given the right practice experience. However, when it comes to critical thought, they also need to understand that critical thought is not only a skill that needs practice to develop but also that, troublingly, attempts to practice it are often directly opposed by psychological defences.

Confirmation bias
If one re-reads the James quote, he provides an answer for how best to teach critical thought: merely expose students to some contradiction in the views they hold or present them with some new information that conflicts with the views they hold. In either case, that should kick start an investigation and reformation of one’s opinions so that they fit together, or fit with new information.

However, psychological research shows that when it comes to changing opinions, simply

exposing one to contradictory information does not suffice. If people of either a liberal or a conservative political perspective are exposed to information supportive of either a liberal or a conservative perspective, conservatives remember the conservative information, and liberals remember the liberal information. Humans in general seek out information that fits with their current views while not attending deeply to information that does not, a phenomenon called confirmation bias.

Thus, the process described by James reflects how an “open mind” works, but a truly open mind is something the majority of us do not possess. Instead, we hold opinions formed on the basis of modeling and indoctrination and keep those opinions in place thanks to processes like confirmation bias. The first step to teaching critical thought, then, is to open students’ minds by opening their eyes to confirmation bias.

Given this, it should not be surprising that research suggests one of the best ways to foster critical thought is to expose students to the literature showing both its importance and how difficult it is to teach. From my experience, two examples from the real world, one past and one present, serve these goals in different ways. The example from the past shows the challenges and importance in a “safe”, detached manner. The example from the present emphasizes the extent of the psychological defences to critical thought, especially when such thought implies profound changes in behaviour. This present-day example transforms the issue from the abstract
to something the students can truly feel.

Examples, past and present
Slavery has existed for centuries in virtually every culture known to humanity. For most students the slavery that comes to mind is pre-Civil War American slavery. During this time, slavery in the southern U.S. states was everywhere. No white person in the South could not come into direct contact with the practice of one human owning another.

I ask my student to imagine being a white person in that context: being raised (indoctrinated) in a place where it was viewed as normal for white people to own African slaves, where white people could literally do what they wanted with “their property”, and where slaves who defied the situation were viewed as being justifiably subject to punishment. I challenge them to put themselves in a family where parents, siblings, relations, neighbours, co-workers, friends, and respected community leaders find this situation reasonable. Would they also find it reasonable? Would they grow up to purchase slaves themselves? Do they really think they would resist the indoctrination, think about slavery rationally, and challenge what had become a deeply ingrained social norm that was defended by many respected leaders who were at the time considered rational? History suggests that many Americans of that time accepted slavery without much thought. But, some Americans did engage in a Jamesian thought process and came to the following ideological inconsistency. When the American colonies were promoting their independence from the British Empire, they rested their case primarily on the arguments contained in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration states that “all men are created equal” and that all people have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. For those with open minds, it was obvious that one cannot reconcile the practice of slavery with these principles.

Abolitionists promoted this ideological inconsistency widely. Did others then engage in their own Jamesian thought process and alter their opinions accordingly? Many did not, especially those for whom abolishing slavery would have resulted in a major life change. In fact, early abolitionists frequently met with violence including, in some cases, being lynched. It took a civil war to bring about the complete abolition of slavery, in 1865.

Why did non-abolitionists need so much convincing? There was an economic issue to consider. Many slave owners produced merchandise in a manner the depended on the relatively cheap labour force (i.e., the slaves). But consider as well that they—along with that majority of Southeners who did not own slaves—had grown up in a context where most people they associated with accepted slavery as a given. Fate casts its die, and people end up playing certain roles. A world without slavery would likely seem naïve and unrealisable. To these people, it wasn’t inconsistent to back simultaneously the Declaration of Independence and the institution of slavery.

For many students, these last statements leave them feeling incredulous. How could one not see the horrors of slavery for what they were? How could one put economic benefit, or tradition, ahead of the dignity of every human being proclaimed by the Declaration? This is where I find it most useful to turn the tables and put my students in the position of those in the southern U.S. states, albeit with respect to a different issue.

Sometimes trickery has its place in education. A sleight of hand can capture attention—and thought—in ways a straightforward presentation might not. With this in mind, I introduce the following quote implying it might be a quote from one who had deeply considered the juxtaposition of slavery and the Declaration and emerged as a born-again abolitionist:

I seem to move around perfectly easy among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupifying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad!

But then the quote continues:

Yet everyday I see the evidence. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Fragments of corpses they have bought for money. (J. M. Coetzee)

The issue that Coetzee is highlighting is the argument by many that humans should stop exploiting animals for food and other purposes (e.g., clothes, research). This issue is similar to the slavery issue, at least in the sense that it involves subjugating others for its own end. It is no longer about one race dominating another but about one species dominating others; otherwise the arguments are the same.

What makes this example powerful is that, unlike the slavery example, the majority of students eat meat. That is, they, as well as most of you reading this article, are on the pro-slavery analogue of this issue, making it possible for an educator to directly challenge the basis of this opinion. Is it an opinion formed by indoctrination and modeling? Or have we come to our position via a rational thought process? If the former, then what happens when we are confronted with other opinions we hold that contradict the view that eating meat is OK? The beauty of this examples comes from this confrontation; not only does it directly engage students in a Jamesian thought process of their own, but it also does so in a way that makes the psychological defences palpable. Students feel the defences to thought. Shall we try? First, what is the rationale for eating meat? Meat tastes good. Yes, there was a time when meat also provided an important and efficient source of protein and other nutrients that were very difficult to come by any other way. But those days are gone. There are many forms of non-meat protein available now; we do not “need” to eat meat, as so many healthy and long-lived vegetarians demonstrate. Given this, the question becomes whether eating meat is in accord, or not, with other opinions a person might hold: this question is the very heart of the Jamesian thought process.

Are you worried about the environment, and do you hold the opinion that humans should be doing everything possible to reduce emissions? If so, do you know that a 2006 United Nations report documented that emissions from meat production are greater than the emissions from all forms of transportation combined? If you think this cannot be true or you would have heard about this before, consider the role played by the media in terms of indoctrination. How many stories have you heard about hybrid cars? If you stopped eating meat, or even reduced your consumption, you would have a greater impact than if you chose to drive a hybrid.

Are you one who believes it is good to reduce pain and suffering in the world? If so, do you know that the majority of meat you eat is produced in “factory farms”, which are not farms but rather are enclosed spaces in which each animal has a space approximately the size of its body. Animals are not allowed to move freely, are sometimes continually restrained, and invariably suffer insanity before the time when they are finally killed. They live lives of pain and suffering, both physically and mentally.

Do you believe that health is a positive thing and that we should do all we can to promote it? If so, you should not eat meat. The two primary causes of premature human deaths now are heart disease and cancer, both of which are linked to eating meat. Yes, our bodies evolved as meat eating machines, but in prehistoric times, those machines died of other causes well before our arteries could clog and before cancer played much of a role. We live longer now, and our body-machines are healthier when meat is eliminated or reduced to a minimum.

These three arguments, and there are more, all illustrate how the opinion “it is good to eat meat” clashes with three other opinions most of us hold dear: “we need to care for our environment”, “reducing pain and suffering is good”, and “being healthy is good”. These four opinions should not reside in the same mind. We should forget the environment, become pro pain, and strive to be unhealthy, or we should stop eating meat.

If you are at all like my students, you feel uncomfortable now. You feel the psychological defence mechanisms at work. You now have two choices. One is to simply assume that I have somehow tricked you, that there must be a good reason to eat meat given that so many people do it, and then think about this no more. That is, accept indoctrination over rationality. The other choice is to think about meat eating, read about it, and learn more. Resist the defence, open your mind to the arguments, and see where they lead you. Don’t be surprised if they lead you, slowly but surely, to a vegetarian restaurant.

Teaching students the importance of critical thought, and the defences that impede it, should be viewed as one of, if not the , central role of universities in society. For students to really appreciate the importance of critical thought they need to see how it can change the world, as it did when slavery was abolished. For students to understand truly the psychological defences to thought, they need to experience them directly, preferably in a palpable manner. The meat eating example provides just such an experience. It is an uncomfortable example because it leads one to reflect seriously on their behaviour and the impact it has, but that is exactly the point.
Steve Joordens is a professor of psychology at ­­ the University of Toronto Scarborough.

17 Responses to “You Can Lead Students To Knowledge, But How Do You Make Them Think?”

  •  by Craig Butosi

    Steve: An excellent piece on the barriers that may impede students’ critical thinking skills — especially those students who are attending university for the very first time; indeed, indoctrination is present and accounted for. As a Teaching Assistant, I am at the point in the semester where my first-year students will need to know the finer points of the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of critical thinking, to consider the ‘adversarial position’ in an argument, and engage (and write about)social phenomena with an ‘open mind.’ This piece will inform the approach that I will take with my students in tutorial next week. It will be interesting to observe their reactions as they engage directly with their defences — hopefully! Thank you once again!

    •  by Steve Joordens

      Thanks for the kind words Craig, and I love thinking this approach might catch on.

  •  by N.R. Coleman

    Dr. Joordans might be a professor of psychology, but he is not a medical doctor. There is no evidence that moderate consumption of meat is unhealthy. If he is going to challenge his students, he should use facts.

  •  by Steve Joordens

    Hi Mr. Coleman. I find it interesting how you worded your statement “there is no evidence that moderate consumption of meat is unhealthy” … what you claim is a fact. A lack of evidence is a fact? Interesting. More generally though, my goal is to get students to think about the issue, not to necessarily take my position. I would never pretend to have considered any issue from every possible angle, and to be in possession of every possible “fact”. I certainly have tried seeing this issue from many angles though (health & ethics, from the perspectives of meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans), and I’ve always been willing to allow my “current” perspective to be overturned. What I’m hearing from you is that you are embracing a lack of data as a reason to continue your current practices. Well, there is data showing that factory farms produce more environmental emissions that all forms of transportation combined, and to anyone who will look, there is powerful prima facia evidence that factory farms support the intentional infliction of pain and suffering (see “Meet your meat” on YouTube if you disagree). What will you do with those “facts” when you put them beside your “lack of evidence”. This is the sort of process I have engaged in, and the sort I invite others to engage in as well. Maybe the way others weigh things will result in a different final perspective. Frankly, I find that unlikely, but possible. All I’m saying is these processes are important and, just like throwing a football, they only develop with practice. Thus we must give our students practice, and we must let them see the psychological barriers that will thwart them. Weighing a “lack of evidence” very heavily may be one of them. Hey, I’m not trying to be insulting … emotions get in the way of rational thought … just trying to have a bit of fun with all this. I appreciate your comment and I assure you I will try to learn more about the effects of moderate meat consumption. Who knows, maybe it’s even healthy! You think?

  •  by James Winter

    This is and outstanding article. I have been “teaching” critical thought for 30 years, and I learned a great deal from this article. Heartfelt thanks to Steve Joordens and OCUFA.

    •  by Steve Joordens

      Thanks James, for the kind words and encouragement.

  •  by Nick Pendergrast

    An excellent article. I study and teach Sociology and I found this article very relevant to the concept of socialisation – the idea that the forces around us (family, media etc) influence our viewpoints and who we are. I thought that the link between slavery/racism and animal exploitation/speciesism was very clearly argued. It was interesting that the ‘major life change’ that would result as a result of abolishing slavery was a major obstacle to achieving this. I would argue the same is the case for animal exploitation – many people would ideally like to see the abolition of animal exploitation, but are reluctant to change their own habits. My only (minor) criticism is that, as is common with articles that bring up animal exploitation, the focus was on meat rather than animal products in general. I’d argue that animal products in general are responsible for animal exploitation, with meat being just one of these products. Products such as eggs, dairy and leather involve a similar amount of suffering and death as meat, and are also equally as unnecessary as meat.

    •  by Steve Joordens

      Thanks so much Nick, and you’re complete right of course with respect to your point about animal products in general.

  •  by Samita Nandy

    Excellent contribution to critical thinking in teaching and learning! Nick’s suggestion to focus on animal products and meat as one of these products is insightful. I would also suggest highlighting the contradictions embedded in religion and language as collective systems that legitimize mass usage of animals. As Carol Adams points out, the word ‘meat’ is an absent referent in language – it is an absence of the death of non-human animals. Unlike animals such as human beings, lions, and tigers (who kill other species), vegan species are easily and indefensibly killed. And, hence, there is a need for collective practices such as using absent referents. These practices facilitate and secure psychological defence mechanisms and obstruct critical ways of learning. From that point of view, ‘labelling’ vegetarians / non-vegetarians might also be a way that reinforces the absent referent and shifts responsibility from the death of the animal. Food and critical thinking about it, like cultural traditions, is then not always natural or ‘neutral.’ For many, it is a contested site of social power over binary differences of animals other than themselves.

    I think deconstruction of myths in language, as in the case of using the word ‘meat,’ is central to critical thinking in teaching and learning. I would also suggest, as Carol Adams further indicates, the use of visuals in human cases that are emotionally and not rationally driven. Any personal and visible material such as cooked vegetarian food (although that might be hard to bring to a class!), pictures of farmed animals, or people who have lost unhealthy weight after choosing a vegan diet can highlight contradictions, effects, and facts. It can address the “lack of evidence” when there is a lack of thinking. Using personal material is rooted in situated and factual experiences and can be always examined in cases that are accepted, negotiated or even subverted.

    These are just some thoughts!

    Once again, the article has been excellent reading and I look forward to recommending your work to fellow teachers and learners!

    Samita Nandy
    Lecturer | Ph.D. candidate
    School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts
    Curtin University of Technology
    Sessional Instructor, University of Toronto
    CRICOS Provider Code: 00301J (WA) 02637B (NSW)

    •  by Steve Joordens

      Hi Samita, thanks for your thoughts, ideas and general support. All are much appreciated.

  •  by Wendy Pereira

    Hi Steve,

    I think you may be onto something here.

    According to confirmation bias theory, people accept information that confirms what they already know and believe (information usually acquired through indoctrination from their social environment as you point out), and reject information that contradicts what they know and believe.

    You go a step further and say that when people encounter information that contradicts their beliefs, they have defense systems in place to block out this information, or the rational processing of this information. These defenses ultimately prevent critical (or rational) thinking—-problematic, if we are ever to improve as a society.

    I think this is an interesting argument because it addresses complex issues such as slavery and eating meat. Two other complex issues that also come to mind are female exclusion from the catholic church and feminism AND STD’s / pregnancy (even abstinence) and practicing safe sex.

    Complex issues aren’t easily reconciled with a simple accept vs. reject switch within the person. There is a tug-of-war that goes on within a person when their core beliefs are questioned, and such a tug-of-war (while automatically and perhaps easily being silenced /avoided), should take place—precisely if change is to happen!

    Change in society requires people to think outside the box, to go against the grain, to be uncomfortable! Most people who have been at the forefront of change usually possess these characteristics. If universities can teach students to think, then they are doing society a much greater service, than if they just churned out factual machines.

    •  by Steve Joordens

      Hey Wendy, Thanks for your comments. I agree, what I am suggesting is a much more militant version of confirmation bias. It’s not so much that we sometimes choose to attend less to information inconsistent with our beliefs but, rather, in some cases it seems like we attend enough to realize how life changing an analysis of some data might be … and then actively choose not to attend to that data in a much more determined way. A study conducted by King analyzed people’s attitudes about animal use, specifically targeting inconsistencies in those attitudes (e.g., many people will describe themselves as strong animal lovers as they happily eat a burger). One consistent statement she noted is that many people in her study said that they were pretty sure that if they knew more about how our meat came to us, their attitude towards meat eating would be much more negative. So they know this at some level, but at some point critical thinking just stops. Kind of fascinating, while also concerning of course. Thanks for reading and commenting Wendy!

  •  by Dr. Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D.

    Loved this and the comments. I teach a course on racism and I teach introductions to anthropology. But I was trained as a ethnomusicologist. Just came from Norway attending the International Student Festival in Trondheim ( and food was one of the workshops focused under the theme GLOBALIZE THIS: HEALTH. This article is a must read for the group SURVIVAL OF THE FATTEST. Thanks! ps I was one of the only professors who attended. I was invited to document the festival and spoke at several events and was received quite well.

    •  by Steve Joordens

      Thanks Kyra! Sounds like quite an experience all round. Obviously I’d be happy if you shared the article, and I really do appreciate your support and encouragement. For those who check out the article subsequent to this comment, I’ve begun thinking of compiling a list of topics people seem to consciously chose not think about because doing so will likely result in a major life change … like meat eating now, and like the acceptance of slaves as equals for those living around slavery. Any ideas?

  •  by Usama S.

    Self Promotion actually works! Well I guess I read through this during your lecture (just kidding, I multitasked). But it feels as if you only gave the reader two options, yes and yes, a suckerpunch article, or I guess a tricky one that you mentioned in class. While reading through this I notice that you had a lot of examples from here in your lectures so I kinda skimmed it. Just a question though, shouldn’t Teachers be leading students to knowledge by making them think? I get the feel that this whole class is an experiment at times though.

    Everyone has access to knowledge but most not everyone uses that to their advantage. I don’t think everyone knows that there are other ways to get our nutrients without meat. Also about the whole environmental issue going on, theres one simple solution (or so my environmental science prof tells me) that is to stop using fossil fuels and find new ways to get energy.

    Another thing I noticed is that you assume people to think a certain way, like assuming they would be uncomfortable but there are “bad people” out there who probably wouldn’t even mind or don’t give a damn. Although this point is kinda …

    Sigh, I wrote out a decent comment with perfect grammer and everything but our internet connection (thank you UTORwin /sarcasm) aren’t the best so I had to write this up again based of my short term memory (which sucks) but I’ll pass article on to others.

    I’ll finish up my peerscholar and come back and mention a few more things that caught my attention.

  •  by Zulfikar Demir

    Hi Mr. Coleman,
    I think this is an interesting argument, and I wonder that of course in your oppinion what is the difference between data, information and knowledge and how they relate to one another?
    Best regards

  •  by Mike

    Your article might be more accurately titled, “You Can Lead Students to Knowledge, But How Can You Make Them Think LIKE YOU?”

    The answer to this question is as old as the ages; it’s known as “Bait and Switch.” Present a solid headline that aims toward a desirable end, then when you have the reader’s attention, attempt to redirect it to your true intent. Your use of this method becomes even more evident after reading your website blogs and discovering your personal bias against meat production and consumption. Your use of this tactic is impressive, even if it is glaringly transparent.

    To older, life-long students whose experiences have exposed them to varied and sordid forms of trickery (to which you clearly admit at the top of your article)–your citing the UN as a credible source makes your position suspect. For every UN study asserting any “scientific” claim, you could produce at least 10,000 scientists who can cite other “studies,” “statistics,” and “evidence” that contradict said UN study. And for every study citing the undesirability of meat in human diets, we can cite hundreds, if not thousands of studies showing detrimental outcomes of purely vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.

    Students, remember this one, important fact: If you want to know why the findings in thousands of studies contradict the findings in thousands of other studies, then FOLLOW THE MONEY.

    You also might well reconsider your use of historical perspective, particularly as it relates to the Fallacy of Cause and Effect. You say, “For students to really appreciate the importance of critical thought they need to see how it can change the world, as it did when slavery was abolished.” This statement draws a clear and fallacious cause-and-effect relationship between critical thinking and slavery’s abolition. But we know from Lincoln’s own words that as late as August 1862:

    Executive Mansion,
    Washington, August 22, 1862.

    Hon. Horace Greeley:
    Dear Sir.

    I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

    As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

    I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

    I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

    A. Lincoln.

    In the end, it was NOT critical thinking that destroyed slavery. Critical thinking did not even enter into the primary arguments between sections. If you read William Seward’s “Irrepressible Conflict,” you will recognize the moral arguments that shaped and reflected the sectional debates over slavery. At the very most, we might be able to conclude that “rational, critical thinking” guided Lincoln’s sense of PRAGMATISM, which in turn was based upon his realization that Union victory at Antietam in September 1862 presented the conflagration of military, political, and moral contexts that he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation with what he perceived to be the least possible disturbance to his primary, ultimate goal of saving the Union.

    I am grateful that my young students are not receiving the weak lessons in “critical thinking” that you believe you are extending to your students. However, your method is not entirely without merit: If you are in earnest about your cause, you clearly have a promising future in that most noble of professions, marketing and advertising, where anything goes and fantasy becomes reality when it is repeated endlessly over long periods of time.


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