Friday, March 10, 2017

Critical Thinking, it's Gonna Be Big

Critical thinking is hard.

Sometimes, teaching it is even harder.

Last week, my students read "Women's Brains," (PDF) an article by Stephen Jay Gould. It's an interesting look at how researchers in the 18th and 19th century tried to look at biology to prove that women were intellectually inferior to men. They found proof, or so they believed, and their proof perpetuated into the 20th century and even into the 21st, though other proof since theirs has shown their science, as Dean Yeager puts it, was "highly questionable."

To clarify: Gould does NOT believe in the information he presents on womens' brains. Rather, he says this:

"I would rather label the whole enterprise of setting a biological value upon groups for what it is: irrelevant and highly injurious."

He concludes with the words of George Eliot (a woman writing under a male pseudonym):

"George Eliot" (he says) "well appreciated the special tragedy that biological labeling imposed upon members of disadvantaged groups. She expressed it for people like herself - women of extraordinary talent. I would apply it more widely -- not only to those whose dreams are flouted by also to those who never realize they may dream -- but I cannot match her prose. In conclusion, then, the rest of Eliot's prelude to Middlemarch:

"The limits of variation are really much wider than anyone would imagine from the sameness of women's coiffure and the favorite love stories in prose and verse. Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heartbeats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances instead of centering in some long-recognizable deed."

In other words, biology has nothing to do with one's capability. Other hindrances may get in the way, but biology alone does not make one less intelligent or capable or whatever.

A handful of my students who read this were outraged, rightfully, at the researchers and their questionable methods.

A few, however, missed Gould's point and either stopped reading or submitted to the fact they were doomed to having lower IQs than their male counterparts.

I wanted to cry.

First of all, cry at the thought they thought an article touting misogyny would be acceptable to me or those who put this course together.

Then I wanted to cry that either they missed the point, or Gould didn't make it strongly enough.

Then I read this, fresh this week:

"Men and women complement and complete each other in unique ways that enable them individually and as a couple to fulfill their divine potential," says Elder Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The man and the woman contribute differently but equally to a oneness and a unity that can be achieved in no other way," he says. "The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other. Thus, by divine design, men and women are intended to progress together toward redemption and enduring joy."

Full article here.

I have posted a response similar to this in class. Hoping we get a conversation going about this. If we had conversation spaces about these articles, that is. . . 

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