Monday, September 24, 2018

It's time for the Republicans to show what they're made of

As I write this, another accuser has come forth accusing Kavanaugh of sexual impropriety. This one from college. Like the Ford charge, there are manifold problems, among them the lack of corroboration. They are charges that would have no force in a court of law and the Ramirez charge shouldn't even have been published by the normal standards of journalism (or at least the ones that used to be normal until ideology completely consumed ethical considerations among America's left-wing media).

In fact, there was a reason several other major mainstream news sources passed on the Ramirez charges (at least according to several reports): There was simply no corroboration of the charge and she wasn't even certain of what had happened until she had six days with people who had a political interest for her to remember it just right before she had any "clarity."

If these charges prove enough for Republicans to back down, then no one is safe. No conservative nominee will ever be confirmed.

Let's be clear on a couple of things.

First, we would not be where we are if Republican leaders in the Senate had done what they were supposed to do, which was to stick with proper protocol and go ahead with the originally scheduled vote. In diddling around they have lent credence to charges that of themselves have little credibility.

This is what happens when you don't have the courage of your convictions and instead start putting political calculation above what you know to be right. If they had gone ahead with the originally scheduled vote, the Ford charges would rightly be receding in the rear-view mirror of ignobility, and Ramirez would still be sorting out whether anything really happened.

Second, Tucker Carlson is right. I normally refrain from quoting Fox News hosts, since journalistic standards there can sometimes be as low as those at CNN. But it's a fact: If congressional Republicans can't confirm Kavanaugh, then there is no reason to vote for them.

In fact, Republican voters should pledge not to vote for any candidate who doesn't support Kavanaugh. Some of these people don't come with backbones and they need to be provided with them by the voters. Kavanaugh does not deserve having his life destroyed because Republicans couldn't stand up for him

Yes, Republicans are in a dilemma, but they are the ones who put themselves in it in the first place. Now their choice is between placating the left or responding to their conservative constituency. Choosing the former means they're irrelevant. Choosing the latter will cost them, but they will only have themselves to blame. 

Letting the left win now will only mean that they will win again and again and again.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part II

This is the second of two posts addressing some specific points made recently in a critique of my recent post "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," on the Sept. 20 broadcast of "Critical Thinking for Everyone," a show hosted by two critical thinking skills scholars, Patty Payette and Brian Barnes. The first post can be found here.

The first five minutes of the show seemed to be intended to address the question, "Who is this guy?" A description of me, apparently gained through a quick Google search, provided fodder for several minutes of speculation and criticism.

One of the key areas of concern seemed to be my qualifications for writing a logic textbook. I have written several texts for high school students (although they are used at the college level as well in several places) that are fairly widely used in classical liberal arts schools across the country and are now being translated into Russian and Dutch. But Dr. Barnes judges them deficient--despite the fact that he has never laid eyes on them.

"I would say," said Dr. Barnes, "that a B.A. [in philosophy and economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara] would not qualify him to write these books."

I'm not sure where one goes to determine the qualifications for writing high school logic texts. And I realize that in Dr. Barnes' world of higher education certification counts for, well, almost everything. Surely there is something to be said for gaining a Ph.D in a subject, particularly if you want to teach it on the post-secondary level (which I don't, which is why I never bothered to get one).

One of the reasons I find Barnes' criticism problematic is because I took the same logic courses as the graduate students in the program. In fact, I was one of the only undergraduates in the upper level advanced logic programs (taught by Francis Dauer, a student of Willard Van Orman Quine at Harvard, whose text we used) and I believe I took all the logic courses that an M.A. or a Ph.D would have taken. If I took the same logic courses as the graduate students in the program, then how exactly would a graduate degree have better equipped me in that particular subject? Would I be more qualified if I got a Ph.D and took additional non-logic courses?

Furthermore, is a Ph.D either a necessary or sufficient condition for being able to write a competent logic text?

Let's think about two scenarios. First, someone with a Ph.D writes a deficient text (it has been done); second, someone without a Ph.D writes a competent text. Under what circumstances would you ever prefer the former over the latter?

I am assuming Barnes would admit that both scenarios are possible. But to admit the possibility of the first scenario is to admit that a Ph.D is not a sufficient condition to do such work. And to admit the possibility of the second is to admit that it is not a necessary condition for doing it. So I am unclear as to how he comes to his judgement.

If my text is a good text, then I am ipso facto qualified to write it. In other words, my writing a good logic text is a sufficient condition for judging me qualified to write one. So the only way to make the judgment he made is to know whether my text is a good text. But he doesn't know this, since he has never seen it.

Therefore his judgment is completely unfounded.

Dr. Barnes might want to read William James famous essay, "The Ph.D Octopus," in which the great psychologist and philosopher discussed the absurdity of the academic obsession with what he disdainfully calls "the three magical letters"--a problem far worse now than when he wrote the essay in 1903.

The number of Ph.Ds per square inch in our society today is reaching alarming proportions. If we had detectors for such things, they long ago would have sounded their alarms. You can't leave your front door before tripping over unemployed Ph.Ds looking for a handout.

This is undoubtedly the result, not only of Ph.D's being too easy to get, but a proliferation of subjects in which you can get them. If we are intellectually honest, we will admit that a Ph.D is not necessarily a guarantee that the person who has it is a well-educated person. I meet them all the time: people who have letters next to their names who neither know much nor have acquired the skills to productively acquire knowledge. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that there are otherwise reputable institutions of learning out there that are little better than degree mills.

There are people with Ph.Ds in a particular subject who are qualified to write books on that subject and people with that degree who aren't. And there are people who have Ph.Ds in certain subjects who write books entirely outside their field. In fact James, who is considered by many to be the greatest American philosopher of the 20th century had an an advanced degree in medicine but he didn't even have a bachelors degree in philosophy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part I

An essay I wrote several years ago and which Memoria Press recently republished was the subject of a radio discussion program at yesterday. The essay was "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," and the radio program is "Critical Thinking For Everyone" (click "all shows" and scroll to the bottom, show #39), hosted by Patty Payette and Brian Barnes, two critical thinking scholars at the University of Louisville.

The link to the show that discusses my article does not appear to be up yet, but you might check in later if you are interested.

Although the title of my article was intentionally hyperbolic, in the thesis of my article there was no hyperbole at all. It was that the vast majority of educators who talk about "critical thinking skills" are incapable of defining the term, and that it serves, practically speaking, as a promotional slogan and an excuse for the failure to do things essential in education, such as teaching academic content to students.

In the article I said, "Not one in a hundred even knows what he means by this term," a common figurative expression like "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," or "her eyes were as wide as saucers," or "he was as skinny as a toothpick." But apparently critical thinking professionals are more literally-minded that most. Near the beginning of the program, Barnes challenged this statement by pointing to a study that purportedly found that fully "nineteen out of a hundred" educators could define critical thinking skills.

Of course this assumes that those performing studies to determine the percentage of educators who could define critical thinking skills could themselves define critical thinking skills. And I contend that not one in a hundred researchers who do such studies could define critical thinking skills.

I said "vast majority," but, in fact, in my own private, unofficial survey of educators, I have yet to encounter anyone who can give me a coherent definition. And I have talked to far more than a hundred educators on this topic.

In fact, I was waiting to hear a definition of it on the show, but I never heard one. At one point a list of examples of critical thinking skills practices was given. I guess that constitutes a rudimentary connotative definition, and that is certainly informative, but it doesn't constitute the kind of clear, essential, delimited definition (what one would be called a denotative definition) that one would need to have in order to properly design and implement programs that would be useful in schools, which I gather is one of the themes of this show.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll discuss that in a later post.

I will be posting several responses to comments made on the show, none of which, I hope, will not be so impudent as to cause the "Critical Thinking for Everyone" people to retract the gracious offer they have made to me to come on their show to respond, which, according to Patty Payette, the show's host, should be sometime in October or early November. I'll post the date here when we have one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My appearance on last week's "Kentucky Tonight" on Sports Wagering

Renee Shaw and guests discuss sports betting. Scheduled guests: Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky; State Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg; Stan Cave, Lexington Attorney; and State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, Licensing, Occupations, & Administration Regulations Committee Chair.
(Click on image to see the show)