photo credit: bigthink.com
Florin Hilbay, former Philippine Solicitor General, wrote on Twitter: We must learn to recover the value of facts, even if we end up with different opinions; of conversations that enrich us with ideas, not arguments that demean opponents; of arguing for principles, not just siding with what’s convenient at the moment; of integrity not just popularity.
I totally agree with Atty. Hilbay. Our current curriculum for graduate students has an entire session on fallacies; of distinguishing fact from opinion; of looking at an opinion piece that’s backed up by evidence; of studying fake news and the importance of reading good sources.
But it’s a very hard task to teach students to think critically. I am stumped most of the time. I would imagine that critical thinking is something that people develop over time as a result of reading, studying, being exposed to good mentors, and challenging ideas.
Last semester, I assigned a student to research on the accomplishments of the Duterte presidency in its first year. There are a lot of materials available to them. There are published papers, online journals and books, apart from other online sources that have been vetted. I didn’t know this student, A, apart from where he works and was as surprised as the rest of the class when he reported. He presented a glowing review of the president’s accomplishments, like he worked for the government. As far as he was concerned, the president was doing a great job, never mind if he didn’t support his opinion with facts.
I challenged A’s presentation to encourage contention and a healthy exchange of ideas. I asked the class what they thought or if there were economic, social and political issues that the administration ought to focus on, or a campaign promise that was forgotten. While there were a handful of good responses, it was still totally disappointing for a class of 35. This is graduate school after all and as a teacher of adult learners, I expected a healthy level of debate everytime there is a contentious topic such as the Duterte presidency. Long story short, the debate took off but didn’t quite happen and fizzled just as it started.
Is it because (a) my students didn’t have enough facts to back up their assertions? (b) they didn’t want to get into a debate with their classmates? or c) they just don’t care. As a teacher, I know that the first two can be addressed with more effort on the students’ part. They need to read more. They need to analyze more. They need to assert more and practice reasoning and oral communication. For my part, I need to challenge them more. I need to ask for evidence to support their assertions. I need to ask for facts. To my mind, (c) or apathy is harder. How do you ask people to care about the things happening around them and to make a stand? These are young professionals, mostly associate managers, who are old enough to decide for themselves – just as A decided that President Duterte is a fantastic president period.
I think of the truth we speak within the four walls of the classroom. It’s a most interesting time to be a teacher when the truth suddenly has many versions.