Disingenuous Critical Thinking

Let me start by saying I fully support liberal arts education, and I think discussion of other cultures in a university setting is important. Furthermore, I think our university educational system would be remiss if it did not make students critically consider problems in the world, not just our own country.

These things said, today I found myself in a classroom full of students discussing sex trafficking as it relates to cartels in Mexico. The class consists of privileged (mostly) white young students, myself included. Despite best intentions and usually productive conversation, somehow today we began equating the situation of drug lords and girls kidnapped by the cartels. Suddenly, I was snapped back to the reality that most of these people have no idea what they are talking about and simply want to say something so they get their participation points.

Don’t get me wrong, some comments were genuine–though I consider them misguided nonetheless. The situation of a kidnapped woman forced into sex work and a life she never wanted is not the same as a sicario who decided to join the system instead of fight it. But I digress, my focus in this editorial is misguided critical thinking within college classrooms. We often consider things we have no context for, after all most of us come from white middle-class Midwestern families, so that’s not the problem.

No, the problem is that often we don’t recognize our privilege and lack of knowledge. Then we consider heavy topics and pretend that we are the authorities on the ideas. We ask questions we don’t really care about the answers for. We give answers that are politically correct, and answers that we think others will agree with. No one wants to be wrong. In a different setting, one of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is, “Fail is not a bad word. Fail just means you try again.” This is what should be applied to academia, not the mentality that it currently abides.