Saturday, February 4, 2023

D.L. Gardner: Learning to Think Critically

 January 7, five Memphis police officers in a specially trained street crime unit pulled over Tyre Nichols (29) for allegedly driving recklessly, jerked him out of his car and pushed him down onto the ground where they surrounded him, beat him with their fists and batons, kicked him, and sprayed him with pepper spray while their body cameras and a public camera captured the attack. Tyre Nichols died three days later on January 10, from this brutal attack. 

Can anyone watch the video of this vicious attack and not believe it was bad? Yes. Sadly. 

At the beginning of every semester I lead my students in a discussion of ethics defined by the author of our textbook as “the branch of philosophy that deals with issues of right and wrong in human affairs.” To stimulate discussion I use an exercise in critical thinking in which I ask a series of pertinent questions. 

“Can we agree there are good, bad, right, wrong, or evil in human affairs?” One student answered these things are true in human affairs, but not outside of human affairs. Good answer.

“Does everyone agree with what things are good, bad, right, wrong, or evil?” Everybody answered ‘no’ and I followed up with ‘why?’ One student said everyone in the room would probably agree murder was wrong. Another student said some people believe murder is good. Lots of dynamic interaction. 

“Do cultures define what is good, bad, right, wrong, or evil?” Sometimes. At this point I’m leading my students to understand that ethics is not an exact science. 

“When cultures disagree with other cultures about what is good, bad, right, wrong, or evil, who decides?” Oops! That opened up a can of worms! Students tried to explain how and why some cultures could not agree. Nobody could answer, “who decides?”

“Do individuals just know what is good, bad, right, wrong, or evil?” After students interact a bit, I ask whether they have ever changed their minds. 

“When people disagree about what is good, bad, right, wrong, or evil, who decides?” There’s that inconvenient question again, which is the point I’m trying to make. Is there an authority that decides? 

“Finally, do all people have rights?” This is a little trickier, especially in America. Sadly, students could not remember what America’s founding documents said about who or what gives us our rights.

A grand jury indicted the five officers who attacked Tyre Nichols with multiple charges including murder. They were fired from the Memphis Police Department. A judge set bail for the officers, and they are all out on bail awaiting trial. 

We will likely learn during the trial how different sides portray actions of the officers. Were their actions and decisions good, bad, right, wrong, or evil? Who decides? A judge and jury will decide in court. Public opinion will likely judge the case with a lot of anecdotes and “what ifs.” 

Every semester I try to lead students to think critically, to question claims made by people in authority as well as on bumper stickers. Like many young adults they believe mostly what they’ve been taught. Too many adults don’t know how to think critically to draw rational conclusions. It’s easier, i.e. lazier to believe experts or what’s popular. Tyre Nichols would be alive today if five officers had learned to think differently.

Daniel L. Gardner is a syndicated columnist who lives in Starkville, MS. You may contact him at


Anonymous said...

"Finally, do all people have rights?” This is a little trickier, especially in America. Sadly, students could not remember what America’s founding documents said about who or what gives us our rights."

That is the crux of the downfall of our society.

The imaginary "rights" to do any degenerate thing, from murdering a baby, to cutting off your privates and insisting you are a woman when you are still a man, to drug use free and encouraged, to freedom from incarceration if you kill or maim or steal. To the freedom to walk into this country as an illegal alien, be given everything, and be rewarded with the actual rights of legal citizens, born or naturalized here.

Because you will yell, and loot, and burn, and kill if you don't get handed everything, ASAP.

We need Judges who have lived in the real world. Not degenerates. And men and women in law and legislatures who admit our courts and legislatures are a nightmare of the rationalization of oligarchy and hedonism, not the guardians of justice.

Anonymous said...

No, Tyre would be alive today if the officers had control of their emotions. A large segment of our society, both the good and the bad, can no longer control their emotions.

Anonymous said...

We each decide our moral compass for ourselves based on education, culture and experience.

Though I changed my mind about joining the military at 17, also about abortion at 24, my core beliefs align with my parents' values, and theirs conform with their parents' moral values.

Lacking decent parents, feral savages are lost to the jungle laws of street predators unless they like to read and work at honest labor.

Anonymous said...

"Specially trained?" The trainer(s) of such behavior should go down with them.

Anonymous said...

The ability of today's college students to think critically is extraordinarily low. Their teachers and parents have urged them to "study the test" and not study the material to be tested. The American educational model has failed these students. A few private schools understand this but many do not. Public schools are not poised to provide critical thinking except in some AP classes.

I have hired several millennials only to find some want to be told how to do something, not caring to know "why" it is done that way. One refused to stop typing my comments while I tried to engage him in a discussion. He figured he could have my comments saved for later. I wanted him to listen and think. The assignment was already written but he was tethered to the laptop. In the end, he could not identify the key issue, though I was telling him about while he was typing. He made high grades but could not sit, listen and relate what he had just heard.

Anonymous said...

This dude needs to smoke a bowl and chill out. Maybe seek out some friends who aren’t angry old white dudes like him.

Anonymous said...

"Specially Trained"? They're street thugs if you can call that 'trained'. Mafia in uniform.

RMQ - Don't be so quick to assume all students learn the same way. For a century people like you (in educational settings) have made that assumption. There is no right or wrong way to learn. Some don't read in order to learn. Some can sit still long enough to read twenty pages and are damned near genius. Some learn by listening. Others by watching. Some by writing things down, twice. No two are identical.

Anonymous said...

Marijuana is medicine.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Mr. Gardner realizes that it is quite possible for people who think critically and profess the most ethical beliefs to commit an act that is totally unethical, even irrational, by the same standards which they profess. It's called not having the "Courage of our Convictions". When faced with a split second decision and under the influence of outside factors we often do things we will regret when allowed to review them in hindsight. He can ask people what they think in the classroom but he will only find out what they actually do after they face a real life situation.

Anonymous said...

February 4, 2023 at 1:04 PM, so, you're saying that you don't have the mental wherewithal to understand the article? Join February 4, 2023 at 4:09 PM, I'm sure you all have a lot in common.

The problem is the amount of time, spent by the young people of today, in front of a video screen of some sort. The lighting from the video screens interfere with the ability to achieve deep mental focus.

Anonymous said...

11:57 AM Anger management classes work for some people.

Anonymous said...

DL, that you believe that is teaching students to "think critically" is the problem.

You seem not to know the first step is evaluating the biases of your source of information. Then you have to evaluate whether the information is reliable and verifiable. Then you have to evaluated the strengths, weakness, threats and opportunites tthat exist in the environment in which the decision is made.

That's just for starters.

You have "convenient ethics, D.L.

You claim Christianity but seem not to know its ethical premise. It's the Golden Rule.
You haven't read the great critical thinking or ethics texts and it shows.
A good critical thinker knows what he doesn't know because that is always where danger lies.
You are a dangerously ignorant man.

Anonymous said...

Well said, 10:24.

I really don't want to take thinking lessons from someone who isn't a good thinker.

Anonymous said...

“You claim Christianity but seem not to know its ethical premise. It's the Golden Rule.”, well look here, this poster calling someone else ignorant.

The ethical premise of Christianity isn't the dead action of the erroneously called “golden rule”, it is the life giving, life-changing power of love in action.

Jesus Christ speaking in the book of Mark, chapter 12 verse 29 put forth the foundation of Christianity with this, The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Verse 30: And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.

Verse 31: And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

From this love flows the ethical premise of Christianity. You should be careful who you call ignorant.

Anonymous said...

After reading the title, I thought maybe Daniel was starting on a path towards self growth and decency. I should’ve known he was wanting change from people other than himself.

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