Friday, April 22, 2011

Rational Thinking

What should we think of someone who never admits error, never entertains doubt but adheres unflinchingly to the same ideas all his life, regardless of new evidence? Doubt and skepticism are signs of rationality. When we are too certain of our opinions, we run the risk of ignoring any evidence that conflicts with our views. It is doubt that shows we are still thinking, still willing to reexamine hardened beliefs when confronted with new facts and new evidence.
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 2.

It is fun (and at times painful!) to look back at my life over the past 10 years or so and see how much I have changed, adapted, and grown. My beliefs, ideas, politics, and overall outlook have all been subject to change and development. I have read and examined articles and books which have had tremendous impact upon my development. In addition, I have been fortunate to have spent time with some great thinkers who have challenged me to continue to claw forward in examination of my idealogies. Ironically, I have also been encouraged to think and develop by those I have found to be incredibly close-minded and irrationally tied down to certain beliefs, stereotypes and ways of thinking.

Diane Ravitch starts her latest book off with a great statement on doubt, skepticism and rationality. I think it is a great reminder that no matter how much I learn there is always room for new ideas and potential changes to my beliefs. As a human, I am constantly limited by my own experiences, bias, and pre-determined worldview. My limitations constantly seduce me into small-minded thinking and irrationality. I will cling to beliefs and ideas simply because I cannot think outside of my own personal box. Thoughts, opinions, and beliefs formed in that box have a very minute chance of being successful or valuable to myself or my community. However, when pushed and prodded to move beyond - I can gain such valuable insight. The goal then, as Ravitch explained, is to continue to doubt, examine, and be skeptical while remaining open-minded. New facts, evidence and/or opinions should impact my thinking. I should be different tomorrow in other words. Is that a sign of a flip-flopping person? No. That is rationality at its best.

The goal now becomes to continue to think, learn, and grow. May the person I become tomorrow not be worried about being "right" so much as being a willing participant in the game of growth and knowledge.