Each Critical Voter podcast provides a weekly critical thinking lesson on a specific subject, such as bias, logic and persuasive speech (rhetoric). Each lesson will draw examples from the presidential election to study the critical thinking subject of the week.
As Election 2012 continues, we will start to apply specific critical thinking skills to subjects like media coverage and political TV ads, using the tools we have been studying to see how the presidential candidates stack up with regard to their ability to convince and persuade.
You can just listen to the podcast to learn about (and think about) the range of critical thinking activities that make up a presidential election campaign. If you are using material on this site to teach critical thinking in the classroom, the podcast can be used as an introduction to the critical thinking subject of the week, or as a homework assignment used in conjunction with other material on this site (such as the critical thinking curriculum, blog posts and lists of resources).
Use the links below to subscribe to the podcast.
Each podcast episode is also listed below. Clicking on a link will bring you to a page where you can listen to or download the podcast. Each page also contains additional critical thinking resources related to the topic, as well as a place for you to submit comments.
With the election behind us, this concluding episode takes a look at what it means to settle an argument, such as the one that took the form of a national election for President.
Since this is the final episode in this series of critical thinking lessons, we also take a look at the cost (in terms of money and time) of becoming a critical thinker and compare it to the far higher cost of continuing to do and think as we do about important issues of the day, as well as the decisions we make in our own lives.
The critical thinking lessons that made up the Critical Voter course, while not comprehensive, were designed to provide you sufficient knowledge to think critically, especially regarding understanding issues and avoiding manipulation. And while it took less than eight hours to provide you this material, mastering it will require putting it to work immediately so that this knowledge gets translated into a set of skills that become second nature.
With one exception, becoming a critical thinker is just a matter of understanding and practice. But that one exception is the overcoming one’s own biases since no amount of use of tools such as logic and persuasive rhetoric can overcome someone’s refusal to subject their own beliefs to the same level of scrutiny demanded of those who disagree.
Special thanks to everyone who downloaded and listened to the podcast over these last fifteen weeks. And stay tuned to the Critical Voter blogs for updates as to what happens next with this project.
This week’s resources include:
No lesson plan or quiz for this week’s wrap-up lesson
One of the few election artifacts we’ve not yet taken a look at are actual campaign issues, partly because we have been analyzing rhetoric the candidates use to avoid direct discussion of those issues, partly because Critical Voter is about using the 2012 election to learn about critical thinking (vs. using critical thinking skills to decide specific political questions).
But this week, we stop to do some critical thinking about two voter initiatives on the Massachusetts ballot: one dealing with the legalization of medical marijuana, one dealing with the right of the terminally ill to receive life-ending medications.
The Massachusetts Voter Information Guide provides arguments for and against each of these questions, and for this week’s show we will be using many of the critical thinking tools we have been studying to take a close look at these arguments.
One of these analyses (the one covering so-called “right-to-die” legislation) will be performed by this week’s guest, my son and 8th grader Eli Haber who has been a member of the target audience for (and the first student of ) the Critical Voter lessons you have been listening to over the last several months.
Presidential candidates can no longer make a statement during a speech, debate or TV ad without hundreds of fact checkers immediately descending to determine whether that statement is true or false.
The fast and furious fact-checking accompanying this year’s election is something new and has led to questions such as whether the candidates actually make factual assertions that can be checked for truth or falsehood, which leads to other questions regarding the nature of truth in our scripted, media-driven political age.
But before deciding that we are entering unknown territory with regard to the role factual information plays in our thinking, it might be best to take a look at the subjects covered during this series such as bias, argumentation and rhetoric to see if they might shed light on the role facts can and should play in our decision making.
To round out the discussion of this important topic, we are joined by Kamy Akhavan, President and Managing Editor of ProCon.org, a site dedicated to providing an accurate and balanced presentations of facts behind both sides of important issues.
Whatever role facts might play in our thinking and deliberation over whom to vote for, the millions of people who have visited ProCon this election year to find out where the candidates really stand on the important issues of the day demonstrates the desire to obtain the highest quality background knowledge available to support our arguments and beliefs.
This week, we are joined by Simon Critchley, Professor of Philosophy at New York’s New School and moderator of the New York Times’ philosophy column The Stone.
The Stone has run a number of columns this year discussing philosophical topics related to the current campaign. Professor Critchley describes the reaction to these and other pieces that have run in The Stone, as well as providing his own insight into the importance of rhetoric and a knowledge of history in building a foundation for our critical thinking about the election (or any other subject).
This podcast also returns to the subject of fallacies as we take a look at some of the 100+ fallacies we’ve not discussed yet, using language from the current Presidential political campaign (especially the debates) as source material.
As much fun as it is to play “spot the fallacy” in real-world political speech, we need to keep in mind some important points:
As Kevin deLaplante mentioned during an interview two weeks ago, we should not judge real-world political rhetoric by the same standards we might use to analyze a Socratic dialogue since Presidential candidates during a debate, for example, are trying to accomplish goals other than a common search for “the truth”
Not everything that looks like a fallacy is a fallacy. For instance, during the second Presidential debate, the candidates used every question from audience members as an occasion to slip in prepared talking points masquerading as answers. And while it might be tempting to classify each and every one of these faux-responses as red-herring fallacies, there are often other (sometimes legitimate) reasons for changing the subject that don’t involve fallacious argumentation
The show ends with a reading recommendation for those interested in exploring some of the topics brought up by this week’s guest further.
This week, Jay Heinrichs, author of Thank You for Arguing, joins us to talk about the rhetoric of the campaign, including a review of how each political party makes use of different rhetorical devices, and the rhetorical strengths and weaknesses of each Presidential candidate.
We also continue to use the first Presidential debate to illustrate various critical thinking subjects we’ve been discussing, including confirmation bias, managing expectations and media literacy.
A concept underlying most (if not all) of the critical thinking concepts covered at Critical Voter is the notion of consistency. As a species, humans seem to crave consistent behavior and, more importantly, are repelled by anything that seems to behave inconsistently. This is why the most powerful logical argument you can make is to prove your opponent has made a logical contradiction. It also explains why accusing an opponent of hypocrisy is such an effective way to put them on the defensive.
Understanding our need for consistency not only helps us better understand why we react to different rhetorical and argumentative techniques as we do, but can also provide people (including the Presidential candidate) guidance as to how they should behave in important situations (like the upcoming Presidential debates).
In this week’s podcast, we take a look at the first Presidential debate and see how what we’ve learned about the audience for an argument and how an argument is organized can explain aspects of political debates people routinely criticize (such as why the candidates seem to avoid directly engaging one another).
In reviewing the candidate’s performance, we take a look at how appeals to logos, pathos and ethos work and don’t work within the constraints imposed by the debate format. We also take a look at how the candidates used strategic rhetorical devices to counter their opponent’s most difficult challenges.
As mentioned during last week’s show, we’ll be joined by experts in different areas of critical thinking over the next several weeks, starting this week with a visit from Kevin deLaplante, creator of the online educational website: Critical Thinker Academy.
Kevin provides us his view on how critical thinking can be defined in terms of six major components, as well as giving us insight into both candidate and voter behavior in the context of these six “pillars” of critical thought.
In this week’s podcast, we wrap up our discussion of Information Literacy as the means to obtain background knowledge with a walk-through of an Internet-based research project regarding the Texas Republican critical thinking story that’s been in the news.
After that, we’ll take a look at another subject not always thought of in the context of critical thinking: numbers, notably the extraordinary ability quantitative information has to convince and persuade.
Numbers in the abstract are probably the most perfect things we encounter in life. For no matter where you live and what culture you come from, two plus two will still equal four. But once numbers are pulled from this abstract realm and brought down to the real world (by adding a unit to them, such as inches, percentages, or numbers of votes), they begin to get as messy and unpredictable as anything else in life.
This gap between abstract perfect numbers and messy real ones creates an opening for all kinds of misperceptions, mistakes and deceptive techniques which you need to be aware of if you’re going to use quantitative information correctly when engaging in any critical thinking exercise.
This week’s podcast talks about a subject most commonly associated with technology and general research: Information Literacy, a discipline developed in the library sciences field which can help you understand how to find, analyze and use information.
The reason this topic is being given such prominence in this critical thinking course has to do with the importance of background knowledge. For as powerful as logic, rhetoric and the other critical thinking skills we’ve been studying can be, they are useless if you do not possess an understanding of the subjects you are talking and thinking about.
And in today’s Internet age, the easiest path to obtaining this background knowledge will likely involve using search engines, web pages and other online tools to perform foundational research.
But your research should not begin and end in front of the screen. In fact, the library (which today provides access to both powerful online research tools and materials that are not yet available in digital format) is more important than ever in helping people become information literate critical thinkers.
There’s one actor that tends to play a role in each US election that can sometimes seem bigger than the ones played by the candidates, the parties or even the voters: the media.
But what do we mean when we talk about either “The Liberal Media,” “The Corporate Media,” or simply “The Media,” (beyond the use of this catch-all term to refer to everything from newspapers, radio stations and television networks that have been delivering the news for decades, or the more modern Internet media that is in the process of absorbing or replacing those traditional news sources)?
To understand the role the media plays in our thinking process, we need to understand the importance of background knowledge to any critical thinking exercise. For no amount of logical or rhetorical skill can make up for not having the slightest idea of what we’re talking about. And, for better or worse, the bulk of our background knowledge of not just the election, but of anything going on in the world, comes to us via media sources.
This week’s podcast takes a look at the fundamentals of media and media literacy, and takes a close look at how the Internet is changing not just media and politics, but us (or more specifically, our brains).