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  • Writer's pictureDave Taylor

What Happened to Critical Thinking?

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Critical thinking is a foundational component of postsecondary learning. The ability to collect and analyze relevant evidence-based data within a specific discipline provides the individual the means for progressive educational development. Analysis of data requires collection from diverse sources and various points of view to adequately assess and determine an academic position. Our academic institutions have long been a highly respected sanctuary for debate, discussion, and the presentation of academic positions, promoting knowledge, contributing to individual and societal development and understanding.

Unfortunately, this ability for educational institutions to provide forums where diverse thinking may be presented has been severely hampered of late, with the active restriction of diverse opinions and the invasion of the cancel culture mentality. The blocking of narratives by special interest groups of any thoughts or opinions not consistent with their own is harmful to the advanced educational process and the developmental learning of individuals seeking to apply and advance their critical thinking skills.

Extremism and violence are never the answer to approaching conflicting perspectives on a topic. Rather, presentation of positions through thoughtful and rigorous debate provides for critical thinking to flourish. Pointed questioning and well-thought-out evidence-based responses allows for analysis and the development of factual platforms of science-based discussion to be respectfully established.

When violent protests block these discussions from even occurring, everyone loses in the process. Institutions that respond by cancelling academic presentations in response to radical protests, are betraying the foundations on which their once respected traditions have been built. The movement toward immediately labeling anything off-narrative from the left as racist or hate speech is becoming old and frankly smacks of irrational extremism, which we must agree has no place in thoughtful debate.

Jordan Peterson has experienced his share of protests for sharing his perspectives on a number of different topics. While he may be controversial, Dr. Peterson typically brings with him well-thought-out presentations of thoughts and fact-based evidence, usually to the background calls of protestors who attempt to silence him without the same thoughtful presentation of their own evidence. When asked to provide their side of the argument, or present evidence in defense of their position, the usual response is a repeated mantra of some left-wing position, that provides no substance for the critical thinker.

The Queen’s University protest in March of 2018, against a lecture by Jordan Peterson, failed to stop the presentation, but vandalism by protestors grabbed headlines. Rather than engaging in a thoughtful discussion, students carried banners onto the stage and shouted their shallow mantras. Is this what our educational institutions are instilling within their students? Albeit a shameful display within the academic context, at least Queen’s University allowed the Peterson presentation to occur. (Ref: Peterson @ Queen's)

That was not the case for Cambridge University in 2019, when the invitation to Jordan Peterson for a visiting fellowship was rescinded due to complaints from students and staff. Not only was the offer rescinded, Cambridge did it on Twitter rather than contacting Peterson directly. Seems like the decision was for public benefit and scoring cancel culture points with a radical segment of their stakeholders. But that’s just my opinion.

In their statement... "[Cambridge] is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot." ... it is difficult to validate the ‘inclusive’ aspect of their decision.

Agree with him or not, Jordan Peterson has the right to express his opinions and evidence-based material, and he welcomes open discussion from his detractors. Regrettably, many put their efforts into simply trying to silence and slander him rather than engage in open-minded debate.

This type of action against free-speech is a slippery slope, one which promotes censorship and does not lead to expanded thought and critical thinking on issues of conflict. Governments are now leading the censorship parade with the support of educational institutions, social media, the entertainment industry, and big corporations.

When academic inquiry, debate, and critical thinking are taboo within the educational environment we should all be very worried. Unfortunately, that is becoming commonplace within the halls of academia through the cancelling of any academic who dares to even question the official political narrative.

Even asking thought-provoking questions can result in discipline or even dismissal as was the case for both Dr. Frances Widdowson of Mount Royal University, and Dr. Julie Ponesse of Western University.

Dr. Ponesse, a professor of ethics, when questioning the ethical premise of health mandates issued by Western University, faced dismissal if she didn’t fall into line. A professional and ethical dilema for an ethics professor... betray her professional credibility, or succumb to the university’s unethical mandate. She chose her professional credibility, and was fired from Western. (Ref: Ethics Professor Fired)

Dr. Widdowsom had the nerve to pose a simple question. “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” Did the question result in a thoughtful debate? On the contrary, Dr. Widdowson was handed her pink-slip for failing to retract her questions and comments. Dr. Widdowson also was known for researching and presenting questions on the history of indigenous peoples, which made established narratives uncomfortable. Again, was a discussion or debate imminent? Did pursuit of truth triumph, whatever the truth is? No, just more attempts to discredit and silence anyone who attempted freedom of thought or expression on topics considered to be off limits... regardless of the presentation of evidence.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leading a censorship bill (Bill C-11) that will significantly restrict what is published and accessible on the Internet for Canadians. Who gets to determine what is ‘disinformation’? Again, the central government narrative will determine what you are allowed to think, say, and share. Doesn’t that seem dangerous to you?

Google has been censoring content that is counter to their left-leaning messages, placing more right-leaning search results farther down the list, making them much harder to find. Facebook and YouTube also censor posts only allowing content they deem as shareable. Seriously?

Twitter was also highly involved in censorship, until challenged and eventually purchased by Elon Musk. Another controversial figure, Elon Musk is a champion of free-speech and is the target of the pro-censorship faction. The World Economic Forum has supported censorship and attacked free-speech, and they have Elon Musk and Twitter in their sights and have threatened him with sanctions if he doesn’t fall into line. Is the WEF now in control of all world communications and the authority on what is considered ‘disinformation’?

Taking away an individual’s ability to employ critical thinking by taking away relevant data and limiting the references on which they can formulate thoughts and make their own decisions is a very limited and dangerous precedent, but that seems to be where colleges, universities, corporations, and world governments are heading.

I understand and support any attempts to discredit false and misleading information where no evidence or rational thought is presented for their argument. But, the process by which to persuade opinion and establish the validity of science-based evidence is through debate, discussion, and critical thinking. Those with weak arguments and no relevant evidence will fall under the force of respectful and intelligent critical thinking, and presentation of verifiable data. Regrettably, not allowing the debate or presentation of evidence to even take place is the foundation for the demise of free-thinking, and even worse, government controlled academic narratives.

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