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Teen Vogue misses point in criticism of school assignment

Teen Vogue wants us to know that critical thinking should not be part of the education system. Instead, having the right views is important, rather than understanding different ones. Or at least that’s the impression given in this piece [1].

Calla Walsh is an activist with the Democratic Socialists of America – as well as being a high school senior who shared the assignment of her freshman sister in which students were asked to list the “positive effects” of imperialism.

Of course, being correct and progressive, Walsh – either one – insisted that there are no positive effects of imperialism and to even ask the question is to be “disrespectful.”

At which point we’d employ a little snark – or sarcasm, your choice – and note that two young women of non-Native American ancestry being able to go to school in Boston is certainly an effect of this imperialism they so detest even if not necessarily a benefit. In fact, given that Walsh uses the Irish language in her Twitter handle we’d say there’s a certain influence of imperialism on who she is and where.

But there is a rather larger point here. The aim of such assignments is not to teach children – OK, young adults – that imperialism, or this or that other, is either a good or bad thing. It is to teach critical thinking. To be able to walk that mile in someone else’s shoes to understand their viewpoint and so empathize. To grasp why the world is a complicated place because nearly everything does indeed have both costs and benefits. The grand mistakes often come when the costs are loaded on one side, the benefits on another.

Teen Vogue tells us that it “educates the influencers of tomorrow” which is a fine ambition. It gains near 5 million visits a month to its website as it does so. We do think it could do better by actually educating but perhaps that’s just us.

One of the things that has happened is that “critical theory “ – and yes, critical race theory, CRT, is an offshoot of this – is now being confused with critical thinking. The second is what we want everyone to be able to do, consider both sides of an argument and thereby find some at least close approximation to the truth. Critical theory is the application of today’s latest woke theories to everything. That is, the answer matters – imperialism bad! – rather than the method of reaching it. Which is indoctrination, not education.