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Web Letters | The Nation

Democracy and Education: On Andrew Delbanco

“Critical thinking”?

I like this article and agree with the main thrust of it. However, I would like to take issue with an idea that university presidents (and you?) often state, namely, that the most important purpose of higher education is to teach students how to “think critically.” For two reasons: first, it is manifestly clear that colleges and universities do not pursue this goal outside the hard sciences, as the widespread phenomena of “political correctness” and “value-free” economic orthodoxy (free trade, immigration) attest. And second, because without a larger fund of facts—above all, historical facts—it is impossible to transmit knowledge, including critical knowledge—about the issues where critical thinking is most needed. Multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, a mindless celebration of diversity—how these conflict with issues of the general welfare, national interest, love of and appreciation of our American republic and Western civilization as something distinct and unique in the world (see below)—is just one big example of what I mean. I know I’m not saying this very well. See “whatever happened to european tribes?

PS I also think there is a good case for “affirmative action for all” in the Ivy League as the only nondiscriminatory way to recruit an elite that represents the full ethnic and geographic diversity of America. Right now a couple of high-performing minorities and a couple of low-performing ones take the lion’s share of the openings, with the balance heavily skewed to a few blue areas on the East and West coasts. Meanwhile, the largest ethnic groups, rural areas everywhere (where 25 percent of Americans live) and virtually the entire South and Midwest are woefully under-represented. That’s not good for our democracy. We end up with a government most definitely not for the people because it is not of and by the people.

Luke Lea

Chattanooga, TN

May 6 2012 - 11:03am