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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Open your mind to Critical Thinking

 Why Critical Thinking?

The Problem:

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to
itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet
the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends
precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in
money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically

A Definition:

Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.

The Result:

A well cultivated critical thinker:

• raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;

• gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it

• comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against
relevant criteria and standards;

• thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing
and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical
consequences; and

• communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence  and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

The more closed minded you are, the more you attack or reject without understanding, investigating and respecting the opposing point of view, the less open you are to others, to growth, to change and to working for the greater good.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Critical Thinking Is Essential To Education

Dr. Linda Elder, Educational Psychologist,
President and Fellow of the Foundation for Critical Thinking

Is critical thinking being integrated into learning activities across the curriculum?  Are teachers taught to develop critical thinking skills in their students?

Dr. Linda Elder says critical thinking is essential for a successful education and can explain how and why.     Dr. Linda Elder can discuss this by answering the following questions:
●      Why is critical thinking important to education?
●      What is critical thinking and how is it relevant to a typical student?
●      How can teachers help develop critical thinking skills early in students?
●      What problems exist in student thinking when they do not learn critical thinking?
Meet Dr Linda Elder
●      President and Fellow of the Foundation for Critical Thinking
●      Executive Director of the Center for Critical Thinking
●      Educational Psychologist
●      Co-authored four books, including new release: Thirty Days to Better Thinking and Better Living Through Critical Thinking, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life.  
For more information visit:

Bloom's Taxonomy: Understanding A Critical Thinking Framework

  •  Revised Blooms levels are listed below...APA revision 2001.
  • Remembering: Can we recall or remember information from long-term memory?
  • Understanding: Can we internalize, recall, and connect with other information?
  • Applying: Can we use the information in a new way?
  • Analyzing: Can we distinguish between the different parts, meaning the parts and subparts, how components work together?
  • Evaluating: Can we justify a stand or decision?
  • Creating: Can we create new product or point of view?

There are several critical thinking frameworks available for you to use, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the scientific model. All work and all apply to various aspects of critical and creative thinking

We will focus on Bloom’s Taxonomy as it is one of the most widely used frameworks for understanding and enhancing human thinking. By understanding major theoretical frameworks such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, you are in a better position to model and facilitate the growth of critical thinking.

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and a group of educational psychologists developed a framework for understanding and teaching critical thinking. This framework, which developed into the widely known Bloom’s Taxonomy, provides a method of classification for thinking behaviors that are understood to be pivotal in the learning process. This taxonomy is comprised of three domains, as defined in the following:

  • Cognitive learning is composed of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, creating and evaluating.
  • Affective learning relates to emotion, attitude, appreciation, and value.
  • Psychomotor learning relates to physical skills, including coordination, manual dexterity, strength, and speed (Harrow, 1972).
The critical thinking skills diagram, based on recent revisions to Bloom’s theory, provides a similar, but more updated version of this theoretical framework.

The Cognitive Domain 
The cognitive learning domain emphasizes intellectual abilities and outcomes. Bloom’s cognitive learning domain describes a hierarchical progression of learning. The levels include the following:

  • Remembering: Can we recall or remember information from long-term memory?
  • Understanding: Can we internalize, recall, and connect with other information?
  • Applying: Can we use the information in a new way?
  • Analyzing: Can we distinguish between the different parts, meaning the parts and subparts, how components work together?
  • Evaluating: Can we justify a stand or decision?
  • Creating: Can we create new product or point of view?
Each level reflects a level of cognitive complexity achieved in the learning progression, with the prior levels being requisite for advancing to the next level. In other words, a person functioning at the analyzing level has also mastered the material at the remembering, understanding, and applying levels.

Additionally, the revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy provides an expanded two-dimensional perspective on learning that also considers the type of knowledge being learned. The types of knowledge are divided into four main categories: factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and metacognitive knowledge. The Critical Thinking Framework matrix can be referenced for a more complex understanding of how the type of knowledge interplays with the stages of Bloom’s learning progression.

The more deeply a perso synthesizes information, the more critically he or she considers a topic. Not understanding a subject deeply enough may be a barrier to critical thinking.

The work of Bloom, originally relating to education, is easily transferable to most fields. The taxonomy emphasizes more of what we do with knowledge than examining the quality or nature of what we know.

The Affective Domain 
Bloom’s taxonomy, focusing on educational objectives, also examines how the affective domain of the learner is critical to the quality of the learning experience. “Cognitive objectives are satisfied when we obtain an appropriate level of knowledge, and affective objectives are satisfied when we obtain an appropriate level of internalization or value for the content” (Bolin, Khramtsova, & Saarnio, 2005, p. 154). The critical thinking process considers the five affective levels and addresses learner emotions toward learning experiences. Similar to the cognitive learning domain, affective levels are progressive, meaning one is learned before moving on to the next category:

  • Receiving is the starting point, which engages a willingness or ability to listen. The learner acknowledges, listens, and replies.

  • Responding involves actively participating in the learning process. A person contributes, questions, reacts, and gains satisfaction from active involvement.

  • Valuing is the process in which learners assign worth to specific activities. A person chooses, joins, shares, and commits to the learning experience.

  • Organizing allows us to develop an internal value system that organizes values in an order of priority. We adapt, modify, explain, and synthesize as we integrate complementary and disparate values; conflict may occur when integrating current values with new and divergent ones.

  • Internalizing values controls behaviors. A person advocates, encourages, exemplifies, influences, and discloses. Once they internalize values related to critical thinking, they have a predictable response to situations.
To become a critical thinker, you must understand the barriers that interfere in your ability to think critically about specific issues. At times, they may experience cognitive barriers, such as limited subject knowledge. At other times, they may not have the proper affective disposition to critically consider a topic because of bias or experience. Understanding barriers that limit student skills is the first step toward improving those skills.

Retrieve relevant information from long-term memory.
Construct meaning from oral, written, or graphic messages.
Carry out or use a procedure.
Divide material into constituent parts and determine how they relate to one another and to overall structure.
Make judgments based on criteria and standards.
Reorganize or put together elements to form a new structure or pattern.
Factual Knowledge
Basic elements needed to be acquainted with a discipline
Define, Identify, Label, Name, Order, Outline, Recall, Recognize Classify, Identify, Indicate, Recognize, Restate, Select, Summarize Complete, Fill out, Translate Organize, Arrange Rank, Grade Combine, Join, Merge
Conceptual Knowledge
Relationships among basic elements that enable them to function together
Describe, Recite Clarify, Compare, Contrast, Differentiate, Explain, Generalize, Infer, Map, Match Apply, Choose, Complete, Determine, Interpret, Modify Debate, Determine, Discriminate, Distinguish, Integrate, Interpret Assess, Detect, Rate Arrange, Assemble, Compile, Devise, Hypothesize, Plan, Predict
Procedural Knowledge
Use of methods, skills, techniques, and algorithms
Order, Recite Conclude, Demonstrate, Exemplify Calculate, Compute, Employ, Formulate, Illustrate, Implement, Perform, Produce, Use Structure, Revise Coordinate, Estimate, Measure, Score, Test Compose, Conclude, Construct, Design, Generate, Modify, Reconstruct
Metacognitive Knowledge
Knowledge and awareness of one’s own thinking
Identify, Outline, Order Compare, Differentiate, Conclude Determine, Interpret, Illustrate Organize, Discriminate, Revise Rank, Assess, Estimate Combine, Compile, Hypothesize, Predict, Modify

Retrieve relevant information from long-term memory.
Construct meaning from oral, written, or graphic messages.
Carry out or use a procedure.
Divide material into constituent parts and determine how they relate to one another and to overall structure.
Make judgments based on criteria and standards.
Reorganize or put together elements to form a new structure or pattern.
Factual Knowledge
Basic elements needed to be acquainted with a discipline
List the five stages in Tuckman's theory of group development. Summarize the five stages of Tuckman's theory of group development. Translate the principles of Tuckman's theory to the act of group formation. Analyze the five stages of Tuckman's theory. Evaluate Tuckman's theory based on past group experiences. Create a plan to implement learning teams using Tuckman's theory.
Conceptual Knowledge
Relationships among basic elements that enable them to function together
List challenges to online teamwork. Explain challenges to online teamwork. Determine how to overcome challenges to online teamwork. Analyze the challenges of a past online team. Evaluate the effectiveness of solutions to online team challenges. Predict the effect of solutions to online team challenges.
Procedural Knowledge
Use of methods, skills, techniques, and algorithms
List each step of the SQ3R reading technique. Explain the steps of the SQ3R method. Determine the most appropriate type of reading material for the SQ3R technique. Distinguish the steps of the SQ3R method. Assess the overall effectiveness of the SQ3R technique. Design a learning plan for a student using the SQ3R technique.
Metacognitive Knowledge
Knowledge and awareness of one’s own thinking
List personal strengths and weaknesses related to your writing process. Describe personal strengths and weaknesses related to your writing process. Compare the personal usefulness of various writing strategies. Revise your current writing process to increase its effectiveness. Assess the impact of new strategies on your writing process. Predict the effect of new strategies on personal strengths and weaknesses.

Having a critical thinking model helps you understand your students’ current functioning and assist in improving their critical thinking skills to reach higher levels of cognitive and affective learning.

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). New York, NY: Longman.

Bolin, A. U., Khramstova, I., & Saarnio, D. (2005). Using student journals to stimulate authentic learning: Balancing Bloom’s cognitive and affective domains. Teaching of Psychology 32(3), 154–159.

Harrow, A. J. (1972). A taxonomy of the psychomotor domain. New York, NY: David McKay. 

Are we educating consumer or informed voters?

Stanley Aronowitz (2008) has suggested that increasing commercialism is a threat to original American values of education and its relationship to community, public good and democracy. Aronoiwtz wrote that the trend of standardization, vocationalism, and privatization might result in a weakened democracy, because a democracy requires citizens who are actively involved and informed. In his view, education is no longer viewed as a social, public good, but a private, individual endeavor. In other words the democratic ideals of education are transformed in favor of the pragmatic interests of capitalists. This tension is an example of education’s reflection of overall cultural and political trends, and perhaps a reflection of America’s ongoing conflict between idealism and pragmatism. There is concern that a focus on discrete set of vocational skills overlooks the importance of critical thinking skills in a fast changing world. 
Our democracy may be at peril, if each new generation has less depth of education, less knowledge and practice in participative democracy, less faith in the process and an increased focus on what they are sold or in their own personal advancement, over the advancement of community and society as a whole.

-From my dissertation..Art Lynch 2012

Socratic Backfire?

Students who want to be spoon-fed the "facts" do not understand education, and as consumers may be pushing out those systems that lead to critical thinking and self exploration. The ability to ask questions, explore options and formulate courses of action may be lost to future generations as a result.

Some students didn't take well to Steven Maranville’s teaching style at Utah Valley University. They complained that in the professor’s “capstone” business course, he asked them questions in class even when they didn't raise their hands. They also didn't like it when he made them work in teams.

Those complaints against him led the university denying him tenure – a decision amounting to firing, according to a lawsuit  Maranville filed against the university this month. Maranville, his lawyer and the university aren't talking about the case, although the suit details the dispute.

Maranville and his attorney did not return phone calls, but the allegations in the lawsuit raises questions that have been raised and debated about the value of student evaluations and opinions, how negative evaluations play into the career trajectory of affected professors and whether students today will accept teaching approaches such as the Socratic method.

A twist in Maranville's case is that he gave up tenure at the University of Houston to come to Utah Valley, with the expectation that he would be awarded tenure there after a year. He is now an associate professor at Westminster College, in Salt Lake City, and his suit says that he earns considerably less than he did in his previous position.

The Socratic Method and Today's Students
Maranville followed the Socratic teaching style and described his way of teaching as "engaged learning," according to court documents. Those records describe teaching approaches designed to go beyond lectures. He would ask questions to stimulate discussion. He divided his students into teams and gave them assignments outside class.

The Socratic style of teaching that Maranville used is hardly novel. But experts say that while it remains popular in law schools, there are reasons many faculty members have never used it extensively with the current generation of students.

"When done well, you simply do not impose the teacher's idea, and try to come up with a solution through dialogue," said Michael Apple, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. "In general, it is a guided dialogue."

Supporters of the method see it as "a process by which you try to make the best logical argument and you focus on process as much as content,” Apple said. But he added that not that many faculty members use it these days. "The reason for its unpopularity sometimes is because we are in a test-based education system. Students can be increasingly impatient where the answer is not clear and when the professor is not giving it to them immediately."

A lot also depends, Apple said, on who the students are. "It is controversial to some people, for example, students who are deeply concerned that they have to learn a certain amount of content and then take a test at the end," he said. Students may also think that they are being treated as if they were not very smart.

Walter Parker, a professor of education at the University of Washington, said he teaches using the “Socratic seminar” method. He cautioned against stereotypes of the Socratic method, namely the depiction in the 1973 movie “The Paper Chase," which shows a professor giving harsh evaluations to a student, leaving the students embarrassed.

"That is not the Socratic method," he said.

"It is an interpretive discussion of a piece of text during which the professor says very little,” Parker said. “The professor chooses a rich piece of text and plans an interpretive question as he opens the discussion."

This kind of teaching is more common in the humanities and social sciences, he said.

The advantage of this kind of teaching is that students learn how to think on their feet, said Patricia King, a professor of education at the University of Michigan.

“But it requires hard intellectual work,” she said.

In Maranville’s case, students did not see the value of his approach, the court records suggest. "Some students were quite vocal in their demands that he change his teaching style, which style had already been observed and approved by his peer faculty and administrative superiors,” according to the lawsuit. Students did not want to work in teams and did not want Maranville to ask questions. “They wanted him to lecture.” They also complained, according to the suit, that he did not know how to teach because he is blind.

The department chair – Scott Hammond, who is named in the lawsuit – apparently agreed with how Maranville taught his courses and called him a “master teacher,” according to court documents. Hammond visited his class, and so did an associate dean.

But a few months later, during the spring semester, Maranville received a letter from university president saying that his classroom behavior was not suited to his being granted tenure.
When contacted, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the agency defending the university in the lawsuit, declined to talk about the allegations. "We defend state schools and agencies and that is our job. They made a decision and we will be in court defending that decision," said Scott Troxel, deputy communications director at the attorney general’s office.

Maranville’s lawsuit alleges breach of contract, breach of good faith, failure to provide a pre-termination notice and due process violation under the Utah constitution.

John Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors, who was not specifically speaking about the Maranville

This trend might be more noticeable when it comes to contingent faculty, he said. "These kind of situations might become a real threat to academic freedom. We have heard from professors who are afraid to be tough with their students because of the possibility of negative evaluations leading to them being let go," Curtis said.

As a result, he said, it might be tempting for a faculty member to make classes easy just to garner positive evaluations.

Student opinions are just one perspective, he said. Also important are peer evaluations from other faculty members who could look into how a teacher is developing the discipline and incorporating new teaching techniques.

In some ways, Maranville’s allegations about student complaints are reminiscent of the case of Dominique G. Homberger, a biology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge who was removed from teaching an introductory class in 2010 because most of her students were getting failing grades. The AAUP later found that Homberger’s was not accorded her due process rights and her ability to teach the way she wanted to.

In another instance, a professor at Norfolk State University said he was denied tenure because he failed too many students. Steven D. Aird, who maintains a website about the dispute, told Inside Higher Ed in 2008 that lowering the bar did not help anyone.

While some view these cases as evidence of the overuse of student evaluations, Elizabeth Hitch, associate commissioner for academic affairs in the office of the commissioner for higher education in Utah, said student input was a key factor -- appropriately -- in reviewing professors.

"I think it is very important to find out what the student experience has been. They are sitting there every day listening to the professors,” Hitch said. “But student ratings are not the only thing. It is one element in a much more inclusive system."

Agree to Dissagree..Agree to listen..Agree to understand...Do no harm.

1. Agree to disagree. Do not take the opinions of others personally. Realize they have a vested interests in believing what they believe. Do try to get into productive discourse and to educate, but be open to learning as you do so.
2. Agree to listen. Listening is the most important communication and critical thinking skill, yet is it rapidly becoming he weakest. You need to really listen, not just sit and hear someone go on and on and repeat memorized or internalized tracts. Listen for what is underneath what they are saying. Look for the value, truths and lessons in what they say. Also listen to understand the views of others as you prepare persuasive discourse yourself.
3. Agree to understand. This includes understanding time restraints (for a teacher class time and number of speakers, amount that must be covered in a term and so on), physical limitations, the full demographics and psychographics of other individuals or groups, possible painful personal beliefs or experience behind their beliefs, that if you look underneath the surface you may find you agree more than you think, that everyone has different life expediences and above all (for students) that this is only a class.
4. Do no harm. Never intentionally harm another person with your words or actions. There is no faster way to shut down communication and progress than causing harm or the threat of harm. The word intentional is important, as we should not let a fear of offense or harm keep us from advancing legitimate arguments or exploring the envelope in the name of growth and understanding.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Zombie 101

A university course on Zombies found some interesting psychology and human anthropology lessons by studying its students. In a classroom of over 300 students there was laughter at the original "Day of the Living Dead", a film that at the time was considered the most scary horror film ever made, and which somewhat accurately represented what Zombies are, if they exist. The Haitian Zombie's are or were drug induced slow moving followers and/or dead who came back to life, rotting body parts falling apart and with a thirst for human meat and blood. The same students were awed and silent during a modern Zombie film with fast moving Zombies who looked and acted as if they were hyper-alive, counter to the legends and beliefs that gave rise to the Zombie tradition..

Zombies of the 1950s to 70's were popular as part of the fear and paranoia that existed with the slow crawl of communism and the ever present threat of a nuclear attack. Today's zombies,  and in fact the turnover in politics and of television programming, reflects an impatience with whatever is current and the need for fast change, accelerated by computers, cell phones and a feeling of unrest at what is to come.
So this Halloween we offer more on the Zombie legends.

8 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Zombies

1. They Are Everywhere 
Across many cultures around the world, there is a concern that the dead could return to walk among the living. Sometimes these ghouls are merely tricksters who are having fun at our expense; other times they are vengeful creatures who were treated poorly in life and are exacting revenge. Perhaps it's a mother who died in childbirth. But there are very few places in the world where you won't find them.
2. Most Will Eat You If You Get Too Close
These days, zombies are basically understood to be ghouls who consume the living. In fact, a large proportion of those who study zombies argue that they are basically a metaphor for consumption. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead famously suggested this, showing zombies wandering through a mall in a strangely similar way to when they were humans. So if zombies represent how we are when we are at our worst (say, the morning after Thanksgiving outside an electronics store that is practically giving flat-screen televisions away), we should be very afraid.
3. Zombies Don't Always Attack The Living
In some cultures, including much of the African and Caribbean traditions from which the word "zombie" originated, zombies are more mindless servants that do the (more often bad, but sometimes quite neutral) bidding of a zombie keeper who has possessed them. In such cases, zombies tend to represent particular kinds of slave or labor relationships.
4. A Zombie Attack Is Probably The Worst Thing That Can Happen To You
The reason zombies are so terrifying to us is because they represent one of our greatest fears: a loss of our autonomy, our ability to control our bodies and minds. It is fitting that these monsters have been largely represented as rotting corpses, because that's literally what they do to human beings: They decompose us individually and assimilate us into a giant, undifferentiated horde, just like the Borg in Star Trek (which essentially was one, roving, intergalactic zombie).
5. Of All The Undead Things You Could Become, Zombies Are The Worst
As opposed to vampires, which are often represented as seductive, youthful superhuman creatures (or more recently as overly emotive teenagers), zombies are almost always cursed with an irreversible, less-than-attractive subhumanity in the single-minded pursuit of some task or thing (such as flesh or brains). With only a few imaginative exceptions, zombies cannot love, laugh or live freely.
6. They Have Become Fast — Because Our World Is Fast
Zombies, like LOLcats videos, have gone viral; and when things go viral, they move fast. As the themes of zombie films have shifted from Cold War worries about the slow chemical effects of radiological exposure (the source of zombie outbreaks in films like Night of the Living Dead) to terrorism-era fears about rapid bacteriological exposure (for example, in 28 Days Later orResident Evil), the zombies have similarly accelerated. The more rapid our lives, communications, transportation and technology, the more quickly threats to them are experienced.
7. Oh, Yes, Zombies Are Real
Scientists have discovered and manufactured bacteria, viruses and parasites that have zombie-inducing qualities. And stem cell and nanotechnology research offer real possibilities for the reanimation of tissue. There is also significant debate as to whether zombie neurotoxins exist; there is a whole branch of pharmacology devoted to determining whether such compounds can be found in nature.
8. You May Have Already Been Bitten
The digital age is beginning to fundamentally change the ways in which human beings interact with each other. Immersion into our smart phones and our second lives in virtual worlds offer novel and exciting experiences, but also erode the lived, bodily dimensions of our humanity. The impact of technology on society is hardly new, but it certainly has accelerated in the past 20 years. So given the recent explosion of the undead in popular culture, one should wonder whether all of this might be suggesting an imminent zombie apocalypse? Or, perhaps, we are already in the thick of it.

FIRST published 10/30/2012

Balancing bias and reports on media bias

By Art Lynch

Viewing various YouTube videos on "media bias" illustrates why so many Americans, including the 18 to 40 age group most likely to use YouTube, see the media as liberal.

These reports keep repeating false or deliberately misleading information as fact (just as happens in the greater hemisphere of politics) and sedom show bias on the part of competing news sources (Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Las Vegas Review Journal, Las Vegas Sun and so on). They are most often very one sided in trying to "teach" about media bias.

Instead of using actual academic studies from large and small institutions, the videos (some of which purport to be academic) overuse a false statistic of 93% of journalist being Democrat, and therefore "liberal" in their reporting bias.

This ignores that Democrats are not all liberal, and that even if they were they have to answer to editors and owners who are decidedly conservative in bias. This is the equalizing effect these reports ignore. And of course independent verifiable academic studies show that reporter actually reflect the overall American public and voter registration (with the exception that thee are more Libertarian reporters than in the general population). That means a slight, and very slight, Democratic bias, with that bias being highly regional and local and not over the entire nation.

They also fail to align this bias trend with the degeneration of journalism as a whole, presenting journalism in an ideal that never existed, but came close during the short "golden age of journalism" between World War II and the late 1970s..

Pew Trust, Gallop, Annenberg are labeled "liberal" by conservatives who disagree with these large sample and scientific method polling and survey organizations and academic methodologist. In fact the will say that "academia" is idea that may have been true twenty or thirty years ago but does not hold up with current policies and the registration of professors and administration in most academic institution (there are conservative or liberal leans in all organizations).

These YouTube Generation videos, which look non-bias and educational, also do not follow the very basis they purport to follow, a fair and balanced report.

In one a CNN reporter is skewered, and maybe justifiably so as CNN has become purely ratings driven, but did not do the same with the bias coverage of FOX and the equally bias coverage by MSNBC. Nor did they go mainstream to ABC, NBC, CBS, AP, Reuters and the BBC.

Be aware of manipulation by professors, like me, deliberate of just by being themselves,but also be aware of the bias of all sources, from YouTube posts to Facebook, New York Times to the acknowledged somewhat neutral Christian Science Monitor.

You always have a filter. All organizations, decision makers, reporters and individuals have biases, prejudices and their own way of filtering information.

Keep that in mind rather than pointing to any source as "proof" of anything, at least any non-jurried, non scholarly, non-scientific method based source. 

Full disclosure. I am a later day baby boomer, with a Great Society / Social responsibility bias toward the middle class and little guy, most often voting Democrat. I believe in being my brothers keeper and that that should extend of our overall society including government.

A bias, but one that is tempered with exploring both sides and the right of all individuals to use their critical thinking skills and be their own masters.

-Art Lynch

10/12/12 first published

Listening and Discussions

The Art of Thinking. A Guide to Critical and Creative Thought, Ninth Edition 

From: Chapter 1: Developing Your Thinking: An Overview

ISBN: 9780205668335 Author: Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
copyright © 2009 Pearson Education

At its best, discussion deepens understanding and promotes problem solving and decision making. At its worst, it frays nerves, creates animosity, and leaves important issues unresolved. Unfortunately, the most prominent models for discussion in contemporary culture—radio and TV talk shows—often produce the latter effects.

Many hosts demand that their guests answer complex questions with simple “yes” or “no” answers. If the guests respond that way, they are attacked for oversimplifying. If, instead, they try to offer a balanced answer, the host shouts, “You’re not answering the question,” and proceeds to answer it himself. Guests who agree with the host are treated warmly; others are dismissed as ignorant or dishonest. As often as not, when two guests are debating, each takes a turn interrupting while the other shouts, “Let me finish.” Neither shows any desire to learn from the other. Typically, as the show draws to a close, the host thanks the participants for a “vigorous debate” and promises the audience more of the same next time.

Here are some simple guidelines for ensuring that the discussions you engage in—in the classroom, on the job, or at home—are more civil, meaningful, and productive than what you see on TV. By following these guidelines, you will set a good example for the people around you.

Whenever Possible, Prepare in Advance


Not every discussion can be prepared for in advance, but many can. An agenda is usually circulated several days before a business or committee meeting. And in college courses, the assignment schedule provides a reliable indication of what will be discussed in class on a given day. Use this advance information to prepare for discussion. Begin by reflecting on what you already know about the topic. 

Then decide how you can expand your knowledge and devote some time to doing so. (Fifteen or 20 minutes of focused searching on the Internet can produce a significant amount of information on almost any subject.) Finally, try to anticipate the different points of view that might be expressed in the discussion, and consider the relative merits of each. Keep your conclusions very tentative at this point so that you will be open to the facts and interpretations others will present.

Set Reasonable Expectations


Have you ever left a discussion disappointed that others hadn’t abandoned their views and embraced yours? Have you ever felt offended when someone disagreed with you or asked you what evidence you had to support your opinion? If the answer to either question is yes, you probably expect too much of others. People seldom change their minds easily or quickly, particularly in the case of long-held convictions. And when they encounter ideas that differ from their own, they naturally want to know what evidence supports those ideas. Expect to have your ideas questioned, and be cheerful and gracious in responding.

Leave Egotism and Personal Agendas at the Door


To be productive, discussion requires an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility. Egotism produces disrespectful attitudes toward others—notably, “I’m more important than other people,” “My ideas are better than anyone else’s,” and “Rules don’t apply to me.” Personal agendas, such as dislike for another participant or excessive zeal for a point of view, can lead to personal attacks and unwillingness to listen to others’ views.

Contribute But Don’t Dominate


If you are the kind of person who loves to talk and has a lot to say, you probably contribute more to discussions than other participants. On the other hand, if you are more reserved, you may seldom say anything. There is nothing wrong with being either kind of person. However, discussions tend to be most productive when everyone contributes ideas. For this to happen, loquacious people need to exercise a little restraint, and more reserved people need to accept responsibility for sharing their thoughts.

Avoid Distracting Speech Mannerisms


Such mannerisms include starting one sentence and then abruptly switching to another, mumbling or slurring your words, and punctuating every phrase or clause with audible pauses (“um,” “ah,”) or meaningless expressions (“like,” “you know,” “man”). These annoying mannerisms distract people from your message. To overcome them, listen to yourself when you speak. Even better, tape your conversations with friends and family (with their permission), then play the tape back and listen to yourself. And whenever you are engaged in a discussion, aim for clarity, directness, and economy of expression.

Listen Actively


When the participants don’t listen to one another, discussion becomes little more than serial monologue—each person taking a turn at speaking while the rest ignore what is being said. This can happen quite unintentionally because the mind can process ideas faster than the fastest speaker can deliver them. Your mind may get tired of waiting and wander about aimlessly like a dog off its leash. In such cases, instead of listening to what is being said, you may think about the speaker’s clothing or hairstyle or look outside the window and observe what is happening there. Even when you are making a serious effort to listen, it is easy to lose focus. If the speaker’s words trigger an unrelated memory, you may slip away to that earlier time and place. If the speaker says something you disagree with, you may begin framing a reply. The best way to maintain your attention is to be alert for such distractions and to resist them. Strive to enter the speaker’s frame of mind and understand each sentence as it is spoken and to connect it with previous sentences. Whenever you realize your mind is wandering, drag it back to the task.

Judge Ideas Responsibly


Ideas range in quality from profound to ridiculous, helpful to harmful, ennobling to degrading. It is therefore appropriate to pass judgment on them. However, fairness demands that you base your judgment on thoughtful consideration of the overall strengths and weaknesses of the ideas, not on your initial impressions or feelings. Be especially careful with ideas that are unfamiliar or different from your own because those are the ones you will be most inclined to deny a fair hearing.

Resist the Urge to Shout or Interrupt


No doubt you understand that shouting and interrupting are rude and disrespectful behaviors, but do you realize that in many cases they are also a sign of intellectual insecurity? It’s true. If you really believe your ideas are sound, you will have no need to raise your voice or to silence the other person. Even if the other person resorts to such behavior, the best way to demonstrate confidence and character is by refusing to reciprocate. Make it your rule to disagree without being disagreeable.

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