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Critical Thinking

    -- a recent bumper strip

    Is "thinking" the opposite of "rote memorization"?

    Educrats wield the word "rote" as a weapon. It has the dictionary meaning, "A memorizing process using routine or repetition, often without full attention or comprehension." But does that describe the kind of education that anyone wants for their children? (Indeed, it's hard to think of any situation in which it is the goal to memorize "without full attention or comprehension.")

    Nonetheless, the word "rote" is regularly invoked by educators who want to impugn the value of learning factual content.

    The difference may be in how educators think that the goal of "thinking" can be achieved. Most theorists in the education industry today think that if we get kids to form opinions out of thin air, without having to know anything a priori, then we are teaching them to "think critically". But many suspect that what that really produces (and we see it all the time in society) is people who have lots of groundless opinions, who can tell you what they think about any issue without even a glimmer of a notion that they might wish to know something it before they open their yammers. Here is what one university professor observes about that:
    "What seems to have disappeared in just a generation or so is the willingness we used to have to defer judgment until we had enough experience and breadth of knowledge to make a judgment. The students, more socially ambitious than intellectually curious, feel put upon and won't abide what they believe to be the absurd and arbitrary demands of their instructors. The instructors have devised a way to pander to this classroom anarchy by incorporating it into their peculiar hermeneutic theories of literature -- or else they have abandoned faith in the very idea of objective worth. They don't have the nerve to stand there at the front of the classroom and announce what is painfully obvious: 'You're young, you're dumb, and you're wrong.'"
    -- David R. Slavitt, University of Pennsylvania, "Circling the Squires", essay in "Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip Mining of American Culture"
    As Prof. E.D. Hirsch, founder of Core Knowledge, put it, to "think critically" requires a direct object: think critically about what? Prof. Hirsch also says,
    "The evidence regarding critical thinking is not reassuring. ... Usually, it isn't the logical structure of people's inferences that chiefly causes uncritical thinking but rather the uninformed or misinformed faultiness of their premises."
    -- Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them"
    Albert Shanker, the late highly-respected president of the American Federation of Teachers, agreed:
    "The problem with many youngsters today is not that they don't have opinions but that they don't have the facts on which to base their opinions."
    -- Albert Shanker, quoted in "Debating the Standards", New York Times, Jan. 29, 1995
    So, in Prof. Hirsch's view, what is "critical thinking"? Here is his discussion on that:
    "Critical-thinking skills": A phrase that implies an ability to analyze ideas and solve problems while taking a sufficiently independent, "critical" stance toward authority to think things out for one's self. It is an admirable educational goal for citizens of a democracy, and one that has been advocated in the United States since Jefferson. The ability to think critically is a goal that is likely to be accepted by all American educational theorists. But it is a goal that can easily be oversimplified and sloganized. In the progressive tradition that currently dominates our schools, "critical thinking" has come to imply a counterpoise to the teaching of "mere facts," in which, according to the dominant caricature, sheep-like students passively absorb facts from textbooks or lecture-style classrooms. Critical thinking, by contrast, is associated with active, discovery learning and with the autonomous, independent cast of mind that is desirable for the citizens of a democracy. Conceived in this progressive tradition, critical thinking belongs to the formalistic tool conception of education, which assumes that a critical habit of thought, coupled with an ability to read for the main idea and an ability to look things up, is the chief component of critical-thinking skills. This tool conception, however, is an incorrect model of real-world critical thinking. Independent-mindedness is always predicated on relevant knowledge: one cannot think critically unless one has a lot of relevant knowledge about the issue at hand. Critical thinking is not merely giving one's opinion. To oppose "critical thinking" and "mere facts" is a profound empirical mistake. Common sense and cognitive psychology alike support the Jeffersonian view that critical thinking always depends upon factual knowledge.
    -- Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them"
    Grade school is the place where kids should learn the framework and fabric of history, science, art, geography, civics, music. In the process, as their knowledge builds, they will learn to form opinions based on the inherent puzzles and paradoxes within what they've learned.


    Here are more sources of information about what the term "critical thinking" implies in modern education:

  • A thoroughly valuable website is "The Instructivist." It offers this opinion about critical thinking:
    "Critical thinking" (most frequently known by the endlessly repeated phrase "higher-order thinking skills" or HOTS) is a particular conceit of the pretentious constructivist crowd -- a crowd averse to thinking and analysis. This crowd wallows in false dichotomies. It establishes a false dichotomy between learning subject matter and "thinking" to justify its profound hostility to knowledge. It's either one or the other. According to this crowd, "thinking" somehow can take place in a vacuum.

    The saprozoic crowd's obsession with so-called higher order thinking skills has its basis in a misunderstanding of Bloom's fabled taxonomy. Bloom's taxonomy -- a scheme bandied about endlessly in ed schools -- attempts to classify levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. The scheme is viewed as a hierarchy consisting of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This hierarchy supposedly proceeds from lower-order to higher-order thinking skills.

    In this scheme, as interpreted by the constructivist crowd, knowledge and comprehension have a lowly, contemptible amoeba-like existence and may be disregarded because of their lowness in the hierarchy. This suits the anti-intellectual constructivist crowd just fine. However, I doubt that Bloom ever envisioned such an interpretation. Most likely he viewed each category as being inextricably intertwined with each other. In other words, you cannot think in a vacuum. You need something to think about. This commonsensical and pedestrian insight is beyond the grasp of the mindless, but pretentious progressive/constructivist education herd.
  • The Difference Between Thinking and Knowing: Memorization Doesn't Deserve Its Bad Name by Claudia Winkler, Weekly Standard, May 30, 2002. "To commit something to memory isn't necessarily to learn it 'without understanding or thought.' As anyone knows who's tried it, retaining facts is much easier when you see how they fit into a larger picture that makes sense. Yet in a subtle bit of linguistic sleight of hand, the pejorative term 'rote memorization' is commonly used as synonymous with memorization tout court. It's almost always contrasted with comprehension and critical thinking--as if knowing things and thinking about things were mutually exclusive. ... One can't help wondering what it is the children are to analyze -- what exactly they are to think about -- if their starting point is not to be a command of the specifics recounted in the book. This conflation of mindless, blab-school, learning-by-rote with the necessary, if sometimes painful, committing of information to memory has a sordid effect: to dress up ignorance as superior thoughtfulness. Implicitly, it disparages the intake of knowledge -- once the very essence of classroom learning -- as an activity fit only for drones."

  • Facts Are Fun. So Why Do Educators Hate Them? by Bruce Deitrick Price, September 27, 2006. "Anyone who has watched Jay Leno go 'Jaywalking' knows that many adults today, even ones who attended college, are remarkably unacquainted with even rudimentary knowledge. One week he asked this question: 'What body of water lies to the west of California?' Remember, the show is shot in California. But he found people who did not know! ...
       "One of the weirdest tenets of modern educational theory is that children can engage in 'critical thinking' without knowing any facts to think about. Sort of like playing tennis without a ball, swimming without water, or conducting chemistry experiments without chemicals. These activities are properly called make-believe. Common sense says that students should first learn facts, then analyze those facts. We see lots of surveys in the media indicating that Americans can hardly find their own state on a map. They don't know where Iraq and Vietnam are. They also don't know the simplest kind of information, such as: Roughly how much of the Earth is covered by water--30%, 50%, 70%? The tallest mountain on this planet is what? How many quarts in a gallon? Call me old-fashioned but I think everyone has to know this basic stuff."

  • "'Higher level thinking' is virtually impossible without a foundation of automaticity of basic skills and knowledge."
    Now Schools Can Be Held More Accountable by Ellen Hoerle, member of the Minnesota Academics Standard Committee for math, Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 14, 2004. Excerpt: "By claiming students learn 'higher level thinking' skills, the educational establishment exposes its true ignorance of how children learn. 'Higher level thinking' is virtually impossible without a foundation of automaticity of basic skills and knowledge. In other words, students can't do higher-level thinking unless basic-level thinking has become automatic."

  • "The learning of facts is the essential first step to thinking critically."
    What to Think about Critical Thinking Parent Power, May 1999, Center for Education Reform. Excerpt: "Understandably, modern educators want to impart the same skills to our children. However, many educators misunderstand the terms 'critical thinking' or 'higher order thinking skills.' One of the most common mistakes teachers make is to view critical thinking as the opposite of rote learning or memorization. In reality, the learning of facts is the essential first step to thinking critically. ... If we want our children to make wise decisions, we must also provide in-depth knowledge about the humanities and sciences. ... To give a child a story and ask 'how do you feel about this?' accomplishes very little. ... The more a child knows about history, literature, math and science, the better equipped he will be to construct his own judgements."

  • Thinking Skills by Eric Buehrer. Excerpt: "Today you may hear a lot from educators about higher order thinking skills. The jargon generally goes something like this: 'Skills for workers in the Twenty-first century will require the students of today to focus more on higher order thinking skills and less on lower order thinking skills. We must move away from drill-grill-and-kill teaching and allow students to explore more creative and critical thinking skills.' However ... research in thinking skills has found one thing that separates experts in a field from very good but less-than-expert practitioners: experts are so skilled at the basics they can quickly move to more advanced and creative problem solving. ... For all the well-intentioned talk of 'higher-order thinking skills,' too many students don't have enough of a grasp on basic skills and knowledge to adequately function at 'higher' levels."

  • Biased 'Critical Thinking' by Mike Rosen, Rocky Mountain News, December 1, 2006. "Try a Google search on 'critical thinking' and you'll come up with a flood of references. ... This is one of the more popular, trendy concepts in public education circles these days. In theory, it sounds like a wonderful idea. ... The problem is in the disconnect between the theory and practice of critical thinking as an educational discipline. ... We saw a paper submitted by a 10th grader at a [Denver] high school who was assigned to 'write down five things the U.S. government is currently doing that might be unconstitutional.' The student offered two:
    1. Bushe cold have help the Katrina people whin it hapin.
    2. Bushe should't be tipin in to people's phone.
    "The student was given a grade of 40 percent for coming up with only two of five assigned items. Apparently, he got them both correct. If this is an example of critical thinking, there must not be any right or wrong answers, much less faulty reasoning.
         "Of course, this leading question just drips with political agenda. How would a student be graded if he concluded that the administration has not engaged in any unconstitutional acts? But even more troublesome is the obvious fact that this 10th grader is, at best, semi-literate. Do you really imagine that he has even the most basic understanding of the Constitution? Before he's ready to tackle higher-order critical thinking skills, shouldn't he have been taught how to read and write, and then introduced to the U.S. Constitution?"

  • Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach? by Daniel T. Willingham, professor, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia. "After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it's time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really. People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).
    "It makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content"
    Thus, if you remind a student to 'look at an issue from multiple perspectives' often enough, he will learn that he ought to do so, but if he doesn't know much about an issue, he can't think about it from multiple perspectives. You can teach students maxims about how they ought to think, but without background knowledge and practice, they probably will not be able to implement the advice they memorize. Just as it makes no sense to try to teach factual content without giving students opportunities to practice using it, it also makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content."


  • Children Find Utility and Enjoyment in Exercising Their Memories Terrence Moore, Ph.D., August 2003 "While learning the three R's elementary students should put their memories to work. Too often today teachers are reluctant to have students memorize passages of literature or multiplication tables or the facts of history. Whenever the memory is mentioned in most education circles, the adjective 'mere' precedes it, as though 'mere memorization' was somehow something to be ashamed of. Classical educators, however, treat the memory as a fundamental faculty of the human mind and therefore train it.

  • In Defense of "Mindless Rote" by Ethan Akin, professor of mathematics, City College of New York. Akin's essay is a wonderfully delightful and compelling defense of learning the basics through memory and repetition! Here are some excerpts: "Consider such practices as cooking, carpentry, playing a musical instrument, horseback riding and other sports. Each builds upon a foundation of physical skills and in each case mastery consists of performing with automatic facility. As a beginner you move slowly, thoughtfully, with conscious attention. In a disciplined way you repeat the same movements again and again. Think of Audrey Hepburn at the cooking school in Sabrina: 'one-two-three, crack. New egg. One-two-three, crack. New egg...' Think of the scales and arpeggios with which as a budding pianist you train your hands. As you practice, you speed up and your movements alter so that they are less in your mind than 'in your fingers'. ...
       "Understanding just what you are doing and why you are doing it is not essential in learning these skills. It can even be an impediment if it is regarded as a substitute for the boring repetition that practicing a skill requires. Someone who 'knows how to hold a pool cue' probably doesn't, if he hasn't practiced much shooting. ...
       "Of course, all of these arts involve thinking, but the thought occurs at higher levels which are built upon a foundation of unthinking facility. You think about how to vary a sauce not how to crack an egg, about what is the appropriate emphasis for a musical passage not what note is flat in the key of F."

Quotes on Critical Thinking

    From our extensive page on education quotations, here are the entries on critical thinking:

    "The problem with many youngsters today is not that they don't have opinions but that they don't have the facts on which to base their opinions."
    -- Albert Shanker, late former president of the American Federation of Teachers, ("Debating the Standards", New York Times, Jan. 29, 1995)

    "The early decades of this century forged the central educational fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to think about."
    -- Heather Mac Donald

    "The evidence regarding critical thinking is not reassuring. ... Usually, it isn't the logical structure of people's inferences that chiefly causes uncritical thinking but rather the uninformed or misinformed faultiness of their premises."
    -- E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

    "We must abandon the prevalent belief in the superior wisdom of the ignorant."
    -- Daniel Boorstin

    "There are really no such things as 'critical thinking' or 'problem solving' skills that operate independently of factual knowledge. A broad, integrated 'data base' of knowledge is the intellectual scaffolding -- the "mental Velcro"-- that enables us to make sense of new information, by relating it to what we already know."
    -- Katherine Kersten, "Students Who Know So Little," Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 7, 1997

    "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts."
    -- Daniel Moynihan

    "Contrary to popular belief, everyone is not entitled to their own opinion ... If you don't know the facts, your opinion doesn't count."
    -- attributed to Andy Rooney

    "Critical thinking is a lot harder than people think, because it requires knowledge."
    -- Joanne Jacobs

    "I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said I didn't know."
    -- Mark Twain

    "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."
    -- Mark Twain

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
    -- John F. Kennedy

    "Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation."
    -- Thomas Edison

    "In America, the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefit of their inexperience."
    -- Oscar Wilde

    "The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. ... these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn't know existed."
    -- a character in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

    "The less you know, the more you think you know, because you don't know you don't know."
    -- Ray Stevens

    "An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't."
    -- Anatole France

    "You can't think or communicate´┐Żoutside of the box if you don't know what's in the box."
    -- Niki Hayes

    "Whenever I hear people say that they 'think outside the box' I cringe, because ... I hear these people saying ... that one need not know what is well-accepted. As a teacher, I want my students to know what is inside the box. ... It is because knowing what is inside the box is the only way to get outside the box in a useful way once the basics are mastered. Psychologists who study prodigious accomplishments, in science, music, or art, speak about the 10,000-hour rule, meaning that in order to do something notable in some field, one must devote 10,000+ hours to mastering the discipline in question. Practice, practice, and practice, ... and appreciate that much of this practice needs to be done inside the box. If you never venture outside the box, you will probably not be creative. But if you never get inside the box, you will certainly be stupid."
    -- Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., Psychology Today

    "... when a child has a problem, to urge him to think when he has no prior experiences involving some of the same conditions, is wholly futile."
    -- John Dewey, How We Think

    "It is a profoundly erroneous truism repeated by all copybooks, and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in battle -- they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments."
    -- Alfred North Whitehead, Introduction to Mathematics

    "If you lack background knowledge about the topic, ample evidence from the last 40 years indicates you will not comprehend the author´┐Żs claims in the first place."
    -- Daniel Willingham

    "We hear and apprehend only what we already half know."
    -- Thoreau

    "Only when we know a little do we know anything; doubt grows with knowledge."
    -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    "'...we of this age have discovered a shorter and more prudent method to become scholars and wits, without the fatigue of reading or of thinking.'"
    -- Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, 1704

    "There are in fact four very significant stumblingblocks in the way of grasping the truth, which hinder every man however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to wisdom, namely, the example of weak and unworthy authority, longstanding custom, the feeling of the ignorant crowd, and the hiding of our own ignorance while making a display of our apparent knowledge."
    -- Roger Bacon

    "...we should not necessarily conclude that higher-level strategic skills are somehow the critical issue. It is exactly these processes that are most vulnerable to specific knowledge failures. We think these processes are important, but we suspect that they develop ordinarily in tandem with the gradual accumulation of knowledge..."
    -- Charles Perfetti

    "When children enter our public schools, they are encouraged not to learn what other people thought about things, but rather to 'think for themselves' -- which is crucial, but also fruitless without insights from beyond one's own mind or beyond the minds of one's similarly underdeveloped peers."
    -- Dr. Jeffrey H. Anderson, professor of political science

    "In 1998 a study ... reported the most common discussion model among students was stating what they were certain they already believed, not learning what they did not or exploring the views of those with whom they disagreed."
    -- Anna Quindlen, "Life of the Closed Mind," Newsweek, May 30, 2005

    "We hear a great deal these days about the pedagogical benefits of discussion. But the assumptions we uncovered -- such as the belief that advocacy is the purpose of discussion -- illustrate why this method is often not as effective as we'd hope."
    -- Carol Trosset, Ph.D., Change, Sept-Oct, 1998

    "The displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is -- second only to American political campaigns -- the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time."
    -- Larry Laudan, Science and Relativism, 1990

    "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."
    -- Winston Churchill

    "To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive."
    -- Robert Louis Stevenson

    "I refuse to engage myself in a battle of wits with a man who is unarmed."
    -- Mark Twain

    "It is easy to spot an informed man -- his opinions are just like your own."
    -- Miguel de Unamuno

    "Learning without thought is labor lost. Thought without learning is perilous."
    or, alternatively,
    "Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous."
    -- Confucius
    (In either version, the first sentence is often quoted without the equally important second sentence -- editor)

    "He who has imagination without learning has wings and no feet."
    -- Joubert

    "Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship."
    -- Zeuxis, Greek painter, ca. 400 BC

    "To the intelligent man or woman, life appears infinitely mysterious. But the stupid have an answer for every question."
    -- Edward Abbey

    "I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity."
    -- Marcus Tullius Cicero

    "The empty vessel makes the greatest sound"
    -- William Shakespeare

    "Do not speak unless your words improve upon the silence."
    -- Quaker proverb

    "You're talking a lot, but you're not saying anything.
    When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed."
    -- David Byrne, Talking Heads, Psycho Killer

    "The knowledge of the ignorant is unexamined talk."
    -- Sirach 21, 18:21 (RSV)

    "He who trusts in his own mind is a fool; but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered."
    -- Proverbs 28:26 (RSV)

    "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion."
    Proverbs 18:2 (RSV)

    "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"
    -- Job 38:2 (RSV)

    "An erudite fool is a greater fool than an ignorant fool."
    -- Jean Paul Baptiste Moliere

    "Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving in words evidence of the fact."
    -- George Eliot

    "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
    -- Aldous Huxley

    "A credulous mind ... finds most delight in believing strange things, and the stranger they are the easier they pass with him; but never regards those that are plain and feasible, for every man can believe such."
    -- Samuel Butler, Characters

    "[I]gnorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
    -- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (Introduction), 1871

    "To know and yet think we do not know is the highest attainment. Not to know and yet think we do is a disease."
    -- Lao-Tzu

    "Insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth."
    -- Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (1929)

    "Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse."
    -- Nigerian proverb

    "To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect."
    -- Lao Tse

    "Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it's enough."
    -- Kermit the Frog

    "Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."
    -- Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801.

    "Students come to us having sat around for twelve years expressing attitudes toward things rather than analyzing. ... They are always ready to tell you how they feel about an issue, but they have never learned how to construct a rational argument to defend their opinions."
    -- R. Jackson Wilson, professor, Smith College

    "Professors complain about students who arrive at college with strong convictions but not enough knowledge to argue persuasively for their beliefs. ... Having opinions without knowledge is not of much value; not knowing the difference between them is a positive indicator of ignorance."
    -- Diane Ravitch, The Schools We Deserve, p. 8

    Excerpt from Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat:

    When I asked Bill Gates about the supposed American education advantage -- an education that stresses creativity, not rote learning -- he was utterly dismissive. In his view, those who think that the more rote learning systems of China and Japan can't turn out innovators who can compete with Americans are sadly mistaken. Said Gates, "I have never met the guy who doesn't know how to multiply who created software ... Who has the most creative video games in the world? Japan! I never met these 'rote people' ... Some of my best software developers are Japanese. You need to understand things in order to invent beyond them."

    "Frequently our students come into the university domain thinking that all opinions are equally valid. This view has threatened the intellectual development of students since the time of Socrates because it allows students to think that incomplete, illogical, and nonsystematic thought is 'good enough.' Unfortunately, it never is."
    -- Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Educating in the Jesuit Tradition

    "Eventu rerum stolidi didicere magistro."
    (The stupid have no teacher except their own experience.)
    -- old maxim

    "Insufficient facts always invite danger."
    -- Star Trek's Mr. Spock, "Space Seed"

    "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
    -- Sherlock Holmes, speaking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Scandal in Bohemia"

    "The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact -- of absolute undeniable fact -- from the embellishments of theorists and reports. Then, having established ourselves upon this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn and what are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns."
    -- Sherlock Holmes, speaking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Silver Blaze"

    "Then, with your permission, we will leave it at that, Mr. Mac. The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession."
    -- Sherlock Holmes, speaking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Valley of Fear"

    "It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment."
    -- Sherlock Holmes, speaking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet"

    "It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts."
    -- Sherlock Holmes, speaking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Second Stain"

    "'Data! Data! Data!' he cried impatiently. 'I can't make bricks without clay.'"
    -- Sherlock Holmes, speaking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

    "People used to say, "'Ignorance is no excuse.' Today, ignorance is no problem. Our schools promote so much self-esteem that people confidently spout off about all sorts of things that they know nothing about."
    -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., "Random Thoughts," August 12, 2004

    "Someone once said that the most important knowledge is knowledge of our own ignorance. Our schools are depriving millions of students of that kind of knowledge by promoting 'self-esteem' and encouraging them to have opinions on things of which they are grossly ignorant, if not misinformed."
    -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D.

    "The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. ... These young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn't know existed."
    -- A character in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited

    "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."
    -- Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    "Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts."
    -- Bernard M. Baruch

    "To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another."
    -- John Burroughs

    "Nothing is more tragic than ignorance in action."
    Johann Wolfgang Goethe

    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
    -- Aristotle

    "You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters."
    -- Plato, Laws

    "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd."
    -- Bertrand Russell

    "Stay at home in your mind. Don't recite other people's opinions. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
    -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

    "I respect your right to have an opinion. But it's awfully hard to respect your opinion when it is so woefully misinformed, so laden with nonsensical conspiracies, so sadly influenced by newage (that's New Age, but it rhymes with sewage), and so utterly devoid of reason."
    -- Charles Austin

    "The young specialist in English Lit ... lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern 'knowledge' is that it is wrong. ... My answer to him was, '... when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.'"
    -- Isaac Asimov

    "Unlike in the past, ignorance is no longer tempered with humility. Rather, after years of psychotherapy disguised as pedagogy, ignorance is now buoyed by self-esteem -- which, in turn, makes students more resistant to remediation since they don't believe there's a problem. ... For the last two decades, I've taught freshman courses at CUNY and SUNY colleges in the city; the majority of my students have been products of the city's public schools. I am saddened, therefore, to report that more and more of them are arriving in my classes with the impression that their opinions, regardless of their acquaintance with a particular subject, are instantly valid -- indeed, as valid as anyone's. Pertinent knowledge, to them, is not required to render judgment."
    -- Mark Goldstein, State University of New York, "Other Opiates: What Kids Know"

    "Research in thinking skills has found one thing that separates experts in a field from very good but less-than-expert practitioners: experts are so skilled at the basics they can quickly move to more advanced and creative problem solving. ... For all the well-intentioned talk of 'higher-order thinking skills,' too many students don't have enough of a grasp on basic skills and knowledge to adequately function at 'higher' levels."
    -- Eric Buehrer

    "I hear more and more from our faculty members that students simply do not turn in assignments, do not attend class with any regularity, do not respect others in their demeanor or behaviors, and do not see any value in learning as a process. These students, they tell me, are convinced that the final product is the goal, whether that is a grade, a certificate, or a degree. All of this, they say, is in much greater frequency now than in the past. I hear it so often now, from so many disciplines and demographics, that I believe it is the most important barrier to good learning in our classrooms, both for these students and for those who are more responsible."
    -- Larry Oveson, faculty co-president, Minnesota State College, The Green Sheet, December 2002

    Also see our full page on education quotations.

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