In light of the troubling times we face, some concerning elements are emerging in the public rhetoric. Among amateurs and professionals alike, there is a noticeable trend to simply read and repeat the thoughts of others. Equally troubling are the public expressions of some prominent leaders and educators, asserting that critical thinking and rational arguments lead to only one set of conclusions. Consequently, the standards by which we assess the legitimacy of these conclusions seem to be set by a self-selected group. These trends pose a threat to the moral and intellectual integrity of the next generation and run counter to the values that I have tried to teach my students over the years.
My Dear Student,
I hope this letter finds you well. But if you’re anything like me, it probably finds you overwhelmed and off-balance, caught in the midst of the many storms blazing around us. The classroom experience is often meant to mimic reality. In that vein, I’ve developed a list of (dare I say it!) expectations for our current assignment, Real Life:
Pay Attention: I know you probably found this overrated in school. I mean, what can the teacher really tell you that you can’t read or figure out on your own. And in some cases, you were probably right. But hear me out: there are lots of voices out there now. Some are loud and aggressive, others calm and persuasive. And then there are the small, still voices. Pay attention to all of them, and determine for yourself which ones have merit.
Ask (Good) Questions: The best test I ever gave was the one where you wrote the questions. Identify the tricky points in the text, find the odd sample in the data set. Don’t let the ease of complacency impede your ability to expand your mind. Oh, and despite what your teachers told you, bad questions do exist. Ask whatever questions you need, be they simple or complex, but ask them from a good place.
Check Your Sources: Old(er) people love to point out that your generation has information at its fingertips. Clearly, they haven’t heard of Alexa… fingertips are obsolete. But I digress. Read the footnotes. Don’t just read them, check them. Do you understand the source material in the same way? Do you draw the same conclusions? And one more thing… don’t let credentials intimidate you. You know how to ask good questions (see above), and how to think critically. Challenge your sources so that you can learn and grow from them, even if they appear to be out of your league.
Make it Your Own: Plagiarism is illegal, you know that. Making something your own is more than just putting it into your own words. You’ve paid attention, asked good questions, and done your research. Draw your own conclusions, develop your own opinions, and share them with confidence. Not everything has to be a chiddush, but put your own spin or stamp on whatever you do, and make it truly yours.
Be Flexible: Remember, you aren’t the only one reading this (ok, maybe I’m being overly optimistic here). Hope that people will challenge you. Embrace dialogue. Empower yourself with the tools to reflect and respond. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. And before you do, read this list again.
If this letter achieves nothing other than letting you know I am thinking of you, it has succeeded. If you take something positive from it, consider it extra credit! And if it inspires you to reach out and say hi, I’ll send you chocolate 🙂
All the best,