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Thread: Democracy, Critical Thinking, & Journalism

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    Democracy, Critical Thinking, & Journalism

    Democracy, Critical Thinking, & Journalism


    The standard teacher/pupil teaching technique accentuates the importance of acquiring knowledge. The Socratic technique accentuates the importance of understanding and critical thinking. Being knowledgeable of a matter and understanding a matter are very different categories of comprehension.

    I thought I might compare and contrast the professional journalist with the professional military officer in an attempt to focus upon the difference and importance of these two intellectual traits of comprehension.

    What might be the ideal character traits of these two professions? It seems that the military officer should be smart, well trained, obedient, and brave. The journalist should be smart, well trained, critical thinking, and honest. The journalist must have well-developed intellectual character traits and be skillful in critical thinking. The military officer should be trained to act somewhat like an automaton in critical circumstances.

    The officer’s behavior in each conceivable circumstance should follow precisely a well-established code of action. The officer is trained to follow well-established algorithms in every circumstance. Even those instances wherein the officer is authorized to deviate from standard procedure are clearly defined algorithms. The officer deviates from established behavior only when absolutely necessary and that ad hoc behavior should follow along prescribed avenues. The officer obeys all commands without critical analysis except in very unusual circumstances. Bravery and obedience are the two most desired character traits of a military officer.

    The role of the journalist in wartime has evolved dramatically in the last 50 years. During WWII the journalist acted as cheerleader and propagandist. During the Vietnam War the journalist often played the role of critical analyst. While one can see some positive reasons for the cheerleader and propagandist I will assume that overall this is not a proper role for the journalist in a democracy. The ideal journalist must always be a critical analyst and communicate honestly to the reader the results of her investigation.

    Since most people unconsciously seek opinion fortification rather than truth they become very agitated when they find news which does not fortify their opinion. Thus, most people have low opinions of journalists. Nevertheless, it is no doubt the ideal journalist who presents the facts fairly, accurately, and in a balanced manner. The ability ‘to connect the dots’ in each situation is of primary importance for the ideal journalist. Knowledge is important but understanding and critical thinking is more important.

    We certainly want our military officers educated more in the didactic mode than in the Socratic mode whereas we would find that journalist educated in the Socratic mode would be the better journalist. The journalist must be able to recognize the prejudices of others as well as recognizing his/her own biases.

    What might one say as regarding the contrasting importance of critical thinking and knowledge for a teacher, engineer, accountant, nurse, factory worker or secretary? With consideration we probably will find that knowledge is more important than critical thinking when analyzing the individual as a worker. The credentials that appear on most resumes are those testifying to a degree of knowledge by the job applicant. We do not even have a metric for understanding or critical thinking.

    I think it is correct to assume that knowledge can be imparted by a teacher to an individual more quickly and efficiently using the standard technique whereas the Socratic technique, while developing understanding and critical thinking, is much less efficient in imparting knowledge. Here, as in everything else there is a trade off. In a set period of time more knowledge can be imparted using the standard mode.

    The question then becomes: is it more important to have citizens with greater knowledge and less understanding and critical thinking or citizens with greater understanding and critical thinking and less knowledge?

    I claim that democracy is more dependent upon the citizen who exemplifies more the characteristic of the ideal journalist than the ideal military officer.

    Democracy will eventually live or die based upon the degree of sophistication for critical thinking and understanding by our citizens. Our schools and colleges have made some small attempt to teach Critical Thinking but adults cannot wait for the distant future when many of our citizens have learned Critical Thinking. Today’s adult must proceed with the effort to become a self-learner of Critical Thinking.

    I think there are several levels of critical thinking, do you agree?

    Do you think that the journalist or the military officer offers the best example for educating the citizens of a democracy?

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