Category Archives: Critical thinking

July 17, 2007, 11:50 am

Tinfoil hats versus accounting

Not to prolong the eulogizing over Antioch College’s demise, but apparently there is a theory — popular among a certain demographic — that the college’s closure has to do with CIA infiltration in the board of trustees and secretive ties to the military-industrial complex:

At the time of its announced closure, Antioch College, perhaps America’s most progressive and well-known peace college, had a few visible capitalist hawks on its Board of Trustees.

Bruce P. Bedford, one of only three Trustees not a former alum, had been appointed to the board of Arlington, Virginia company GlobeSecNine in 2005. The company is described by a representative of investment corporation Bear Sterns as having “a unique set of experiences in special forces, classified operations, transportation security and military operations.” One can only speculate why the nation’s longest-standing…

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May 3, 2007, 10:08 am

Reindoctrinate the indoctrinators! has this story about the controversy surrounding a course called “Dimensions of Culture”, an introductory social science sequence for freshmen at UC San Diego’s Thurgood Marshall College. The controversy seems to revolve around the firings of two graduate students who were trying to drum up support for returning the course to its ideological roots. Specifically, the grad students charge that the course has become “a form of uncritical patriotic education that fails to interrogate the injustice integral to the founding of the U.S. and the current state of U.S. society.” The course, as advertised is:

a study in the social construction of individual identity in contemporary America and it surveys a range of social differences and stratifications that shape the nature of human attachment to self, work, community, and a sense of nation. Central to the course objective is…

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May 2, 2007, 11:57 am

Looking back at an algebra text

I love old books, especially textbooks and particularly math textbooks. RightWingProf’s post here explains why, as he walks us through a page out of his old high school algebra textbook.

The excerpts in his post are typical of a lot of older high school texts in math. The language used in the problems is standard grade-appropriate English which a lot of students today, college students included, would be hard-pressed to understand on first reading. They problems don’t shy away from fractions or inconvenient numbers. (Why do so many high school math books these days think they’re offending somebody if they use the number -175/33 as an answer?) And, perhaps surprisingly, the problems are firmly rooted in practical applications and demand a lot of what I would call critical thinking from students. (Look at Exercise 13 at Prof’s post.) Somehow one might expect older books to be more…

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March 26, 2007, 4:55 am

Shutting down the opposition

The Christian Legal Society at Southern Methodist University is co-sponsoring “Darwin vs. Design”, a presentation on the always-controversial subject of intelligent design (ID). In the best spirit of the university being a marketplace of ideas, representatives from the departments of anthropology, biology, and geology will be on hand to counter the viewpoints espoused by ID proponents with a presentation of their own, focusing on ID’s lack of coherence as a scientific theory.

Sounds good, except only one of the two sentences I just wrote is true. Guess which one?

Science professors upset about a presentation on “Intelligent Design” fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down. [...]

“These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits,” said the letter sent to administrators by the department. “They have no place on an…

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March 20, 2007, 10:58 am

Indoctrinate U

Evan Coyne Maloney’s documentary Indoctrinate U is out. You have to watch the trailer:
Sign up here to arrange a screening near you.

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November 27, 2006, 5:06 pm

Another situation where physical intuition is important

The concept of “instantaneous” anything is easy to teach (“Take a high-shutter-speed picture of your speedometer”) and very hard at the same time. Case in point: There’s a question on the calculus test that gives an equation for the distance of a particle at a given time. The students are asked to do the usual things: Find the velocity and acceleration at t = 3, find the times when the particle is at rest, etc. One part that has thrown a few students for a loop is: What is the acceleration of the particle when it is at rest? Several students have responded to the effect of:

0 m/s/s. An object cannot be accelerating when it is at rest.

That’s actually a pretty common physical misconception, and one that takes some non-calculus thinking to overcome. When one hears the phrase “at rest”, one tends to think of something sitting still, and remaining motionless for an extended period of time….

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November 9, 2006, 12:22 pm

Horowitz attacked, this time at Ball State

Back in April 2005 on my former blog (now offline), I wrote about an incident at Butler University where masked students attacked speaker/author David Horowitz with a cream pie. It’s a year and a half later, and guess what? The same thing has happened again, right here in Indiana again, this time at Ball State University:

Two people are under arrested after one, clad in a black mask and hooded sweatshirt, attempted to throw a cream pie at David Horowitz, University Police Department Sgt. John Foster said. Police Chief Gene Burton stepped between the two, Foster said.

Later, four students who wished to remain unnamed projected “Horowitz not Welcome” onto the south side of Teachers College.

Michelle Malkin has more here, including a link to an article that connects the offenders to the ironically-named Students for a Democratic Society.

This incident — along with the earlier one at…

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November 2, 2006, 7:12 am

Teaching, not indoctrination

This anthropology professor — who is not a Christian — gets it right when it comes to teaching classes where the majority of students hold beliefs that are different or even counter to his:

The key, of course, is that the stance we take on Christianity in class be distanced and yet respectful. While I may feel that I’m soaking in it, Christian students see themselves to be an embattled minority in an increasingly secular society full of professors who belittle their beliefs in lectures on evolution and secular humanism. Beating up on my Christian students for their faith in the name of cultural relativism is simply not effective anthropology.

So while I have a gimlet eye for some of Christianity’s more incongruous beliefs I am someone who actively participates in the life of their faith community, and being the guy who sings motets while everyone else takes communion — in…

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October 19, 2006, 9:50 pm

The following picture should be next to…

…the Webster’s dictionary entry for “false dichotomy”:


How about, “Happy and good at math”? Can I have that, please, for my kids?

This a “Quick Vote” poll from the statistical geniuses at, apropos to this article. I was going to comment on that article this morning but it’s got just the right mixture of truth and complete hogwash inextricably mashed together so that it’s almost impossible to say anything intelligent about it. Lots of people on the Project NExT mailing list are hopping mad about it, though.

October 18, 2006, 2:29 pm

Critical thinking and units of measurement

One of the easiest ways to think critically about a quantitative problem is something I have never seen stressed in any math textbook: examining the units of measurement. I’ve blogged about this before. But once again the calculus homework set in front of me provides a good case in point.

The particular exercise I’m looking at now describes a population of bacteria growing, with n=f(t) being the expression which gives the size of the population after t hours. No formula, graph, or table is given. Students are asked to explain what f’(5) would mean and state the units. If you teach calculus, you know what’s coming: A good many students will say that f’(5) tells you the number of bacteria present after 5 hours. And then they will say that the units are in bacteria per hour.

Think about that. If you were working in the lab, and I popped in and asked you how many bacteria you had right the…

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