Monthly Archives: December 2011

To Inspire Critical Thinking

To Inspire Critical Thinking


This week my friend and I had the opportunity to present our semester’s research in front of two different Supply Chain Management classes. As I stood there at the front of the room and observed my peers, who had a wide range of involvement with the content -interested in the presentation, more interested in texting, more interested in staring into space (one of my two signature expressions) -my interest was turned to investigating what it takes to teach.

As my own disconnected thoughts fell through my mind all week, the finally constructed themselves on Wednesday night in a conversation I had with my friend, a senior English major. The question we focused our discussion on was whether an English major would be a better high school English teacher (better in terms of being able to inspire critical thinking and apply it to the material) than an English Education major. The question being: will a deeper knowledge of the discipline (the English Major approach) be more valuable in inspiring students than a deeper knowledge of how students respond to different stimuli (the English Ed Major approach).

My friend and I agreed that a deeper knowledge of the discipline would yield more freedom in one’s ability to critically reflect on the material, and further, be able to communicate those reflections more easily to students.* However, when I asked another English major what his thoughts were, he believed that the English Education major would certainly be a better fit for a high school teacher because he believed that most high school student required an introduction into English rather than the full immersion which may more likely be the style of the English Major.

This led me to this question: should we be enrolling the teenagers of this country in rigid, standardized, formatted literature and writing courses, or would in-depth, more creative and challenging courses turn more students into critical thinkers? I believe that the answer is “yes, it would.” And I think that it would be insightful to examine the grade distribution between Penn State freshmen taking English 15, and English 30 (the Honors option); from what I have heard from my peers, we might find that students in the more challenging course are earning better grades than those in the standard course.** However, I have not yet found out who to ask for these grade distributions.

The point: critical thinkers are developed through challenge and freedom to pursue their own thoughts and creativity.


*Note: this argument may only apply to the question of English vs. English Ed. because the discipline itself is a study of communication, so we assume that one who is well versed in the discipline will also have an ability to communicate the discipline as well.

** Note: my comparison is specific to grades received in the Engl 15 and Engl 30 courses, not overall GPAs


Essay Series # 4: Assess your development as a leader.

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I have examined
before the qualities of the effective leader, which I believe to be threefold:
the realization that the world is not as it should be, the boldness to question
the status quo, and the humility to know always that he may not already have
the answer. He should never seek the esteem of the public, but instead must be
restless for the pursuit of truth and justice. The question of this essay
though, is my development as a leader, and whether or not I am that leader of
who I have written so often. I assure the reader that I am not a man of
steadfast resilience and restlessness -though I hope one day to be -but I would
like to explore a few observations regarding my development: first; that
personal reflection has been crucial, and second; that true leadership isn’t
necessarily grand.


The recent
developments on campus have reminded me that most of the time our convictions
exist not as the product of critical thinking, but rather by picking the
popular or the non-conformist polarization, depending on our personal
proclivities. If leadership is the pursuit of truth, and defines itself by
abandoning assumptions and the status quo, then the leader must not only discern
the voices of the pundits and politicians, but he must offer his own original
assessment as well. I have learned that my skepticism has become second nature,
but my original thought is often stifled by the myriad of messages that I am
fed through social media and unlimited, unavoidable constant communication. The
reality is that I may have gone through my college career without having more
than 20 truly original and novel ideas. I have trained myself, however, to
discern what I hear, and force myself to continually ask myself what reasons I
have for holding the convictions that I do. I wrote last week about my
encounter with a homeless man in Pittsburgh, and just as I believe that the
only think I could do there was simply to sit down with him and listen to him,
in the case of my helplessness to counter my natural inclination to follow the
popular thought -I believe that progress begins at the question “why?”


A great friend
of mine told me last week about his relationship with his father. The man, who
left my friend and his mom for another woman has been the source of much
disappointment for my friend, but he confessed to me that he believes that he
is also fully capable of becoming the person that his father is. Where he
believes there is hope though, is that where his father never seemed to
acknowledge his actions as problematic, my friend holds the conviction that
they were, and he has set his will against walking down that same path. He is
not there yet -far from it -but I believe that he is at the very least turned
in the right direction. I think that most often we are forced to make decisions
without any real understanding of our situation or of the consequences of our
choices. Much like my friend, we don’t know exactly how to get from point A to
point Z -and maybe not even how to get to point B -but we start by recognizing
that the status quo is unacceptable. And it’s there that we move from
conformity to progress.


To address my
second point, that leadership isn’t necessarily grand, I would like to suggest
that the opportunity to lead is always there. If I am having a better day -and
am not consumed by my own priorities -I like to ask myself how can I lead
today. It usually comes down to something really small: if I’m leading a
meeting, I will remind my vice-president how much I appreciate her input and
value her leadership. I am convinced that leadership exists at many levels, and
that seemingly small actions have the ability to teach and influence the people
around you. The key though, is living each day intent on shaping your sphere of
influence for the better.


My leadership
here at Penn State has been modest, and admit that I don’t expect to leave a
significant legacy; at least not in the structural sense. My perspective
though, is that I am leading in the way that I need to right now -being
outspoken about my views, and seeking to inspire critical though in my peers.
Whether my actions here will really change the social environment in any big
way I’m not sure really matters; but I think that I am doing what I need to in order
to become a leader that may one day be able to further justice and truth in my