Critical Thinking

This week my friend Amparo Llanos in Sydney, Australia, posted a video on Facebook that got me thinking about a number of things.

First, that she and I have been friends for more than twenty years, although we’ve never met. We’ve been corresponding since I was in the Peace Corps in Gabon and she worked for the environmental nongovernmental organization Clean Up the World based in Australia.

At that time our correspondence took weeks to travel back and forth across the oceans. (She was helping me organize the first Clean Up effort in my town of Lastoursville in the middle of Gabon’s thick rainforest, which I later wrote about in my Peace Corps memoir.) Now, Amparo and I are friends on Facebook and our missives are instantaneous.

Times – and technology – have, of course, changed; but we haven’t. Our sensibilities remain pretty much the same.

Maybe that’s why she knew I would appreciate the YouTube video she posted this week of American comedian George Carlin’s stand-up act, “The American Dream.”

This three-minute video, which has received nearly six million views, is not new — after all, Carlin died over ten years ago — and I may have even seen it before. But I found it bears re-viewing.

I was especially inclined to watch it because Amparo had commented at the top of her post, “Critical thinking? Many don’t know what it means.”

This was a teaser for me. Clearly Carlin, with his characteristic biting humor, would have something to say on the matter. But first, my mind flew back to the time when I taught critical thinking in my Freshman English classes at UNM-Taos for ten years.

“What does the ‘critical’ in critical thinking mean?” I’d ask my students at the beginning of each semester, then, not waiting for an answer, follow my question quickly by, “Does it mean being critical of everything? Fault-finding left and right?”

I’d scan the room filled with blank faces, left to right, then proceed:

“Not at all! This ‘critical’ means extremely important, as in, ‘It’s critical that we find ways to clean up the world’s oceans of plastic and garbage.’

I saw a few lights go on behind some eyes.

“Critical thinking is the act of evaluating an issue in order to form an intelligent, informed judgment,” I’d say professorially. “And this act isn’t easy. It requires hard work – thinking! – and wide reading, the kind of reading assigned in college courses that you’d be unlikely to do on your own just for fun.”

These words were not met with cheers or smiles, I could plainly see.

“Look,” I’d go on, “it’s not my job to tell you WHAT to think, but it is my job to teach you HOW TO LEARN TO THINK – and you do that by reading. In college – especially in college English classes – reading, writing, and discussing are requirements for learning. This is the purpose of higher learning – to teach critical thinking that will guide you throughout life.”

Snapping back to the present, I watched Carlin’s video.

In it he paces the stage like a bent and grumpy old man, gripping his hand-held microphone and ranting (but with good reason): “The real owners of this country [which have of late been labelled the top one percent] don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking! What they want is obedient, unquestioning workers. … They don’t give a [damn] about you!”

Carlin’s parting words: “They call it ‘the American Dream’ because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

(Here’s the link: )

Need I point out that the bulk of Donald Trump’s most loyal and unquestioning base is comprised of the non-college-educated? And Donald Trump, the purported leader of the free world, could well be reelected if more voting-age U.S. citizens don’t wake up and think?

I’m sure there are many progressive high schools in the U.S. where critical thinking is taught. And I’m just as sure there are plenty of narrow-gauge colleges where it’s not taught. The critical thing, in my opinion, is that all people, but especially young people, learn how to use their own minds for the world’s good before it’s too late.

Something to think (critically) about: There was a major hailstorm here this past week, in San Miguel de Allende, as well as other parts of Mexico. Hail. In Mexico. In July. Why?


20 thoughts on “Critical Thinking”

  1. oh, Bonnie, this week’s blog lit a fire in my heart…YES we need more critical thinking, and I can’t wait to watch George Carlin’s rant. mil gracias and abrazos

  2. Dear Bon,
    His words are truer than ever. The difference is this agenda is no longer hidden but declared openly while their followers cheer.

  3. Carlin was a genius. This clip is part of a larger 1 hour performance. I’ve posted it on FB a number of times, when it was needed. He gave us all the information we need and I think he died of a broken heart. We were not listening and if we were, we were not acting. I think this is the curse of “May you live in interesting times.”

  4. As you know, Bonnie, that’s a subject after my own heart. I heard an interview on Fresh Air a couple of days ago about Facebook employees who are hired to spot untrue and incendiary stories. No. 1, these people are foreigners, whose cultural and political acumen is not even American, and no. 2, most of them don’t have a higher-education degree. These people are paid $28,000/year and they work in horrendous factory-like settings that are dirty and have no aesthetic qualities, which should tell you something about the value Facebook places on critical thinking. It takes a lot of time and attention and—like you say, reading—to develop the ability to think critically. It’s not a passively received aptitude, and these people are not up to the task. Many are becoming convinced that the fake news is accurate, and others are suffering from PTSD. But at least FB can say it’s doing something, even though that something is a huge waste of time, money, and human mental health. Always nice to know you’re there, gnawing over the same problems I am. xoxo

    1. Ah, Barbie, “gnawing” is the word, isn’t it? We’re like doggies with big beef bones! Critical thinking is one of those seemingly dying arts — like deep reading. But I refuse to give up all hope. Instead, I’ll keep harping (and gnawing) until I’m brain-dead and toothless. Ha-ha! — xx

      1. Well, Bonnie, at least you’ll have the company of one other person who never tires of hearing you harp! Although when I think about my sisters and friends, I realize there are others out there. They just seem very rare these days. It takes work. And most people don’t have the time or inclination to devote to it.

        It’s raining here! So welcome and refreshing…


        1. That’s comforting to know, Barb! 🙂 I can’t help but think that those who don’t do their “homework” in this life will be left back… (What a terrible fate!)

  5. Ah Bonnie… Strange how (critical) thinking can cross oceans sometimes… The topic rose yesterday in my garden while sharing a bbq with long time university friends…xx ML

  6. Doomed to repeat the first grade of life, right? I know that there are blind spots in my thinking sometimes, but just realizing that means a lot of it is at least partially illuminated.

  7. You never cease to amaze me Bonnie! Your writing is so great and thought provoking!
    Hugs and thanks!

  8. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
    –Carl Sagan

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.