“Judge not a person by the answers they give, but the questions they ask”.

It was a cold, wet Tuesday afternoon. My Year 11 History lesson had dribbled over into break. Half a dozen students remained arguing over “what was Education”. Among them was a girl who said little until just before leaving …

”I think that Education is what is left when you have forgotten everything else.”

Forty years later and now in my seventy-eighth year let me be among the first to say that she was not far wrong! The aging process and ensuing memory loss have reduced me to the permanent carrying of a "communications" shoulder bag. It contains my reading glasses, notebook and pen; wallet and most important of all, my smart phone with its constant access to long forgotten detail. It has happened to me and if it has happened to you, let us fight back together.

By trade I was a teacher of High School History. I had long recognised that there were two sides to the subject...Product (that which we know or think we know) and Process (the means by which we find out what we know or think we know). The former is incremental and provisional and was the first to start slipping my mind but the latter requires principles of investigation that have changed but little since Socrates and are directly applicable to everyday life. Let me demonstrate...

Never forget the A.B.C. (Accept nothing; Believe nothing and Challenge everything.)

Do that which Presidents, Princes and Paupers fear alike...read these four lines from Kipling and ASK THE SAME QUESTIONS until it becomes a habit…

“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

This will enable you to start “cutting through the crap”, (as another of my ex-students colourfully explained the benefit of Philosophy).

On the subject of bias in others, let us be aware of our own and think objectively. During the “Political Correctness Witch Hunt,” I took great delight in challenging proponents to define what the term meant rather than producing examples of what it wasn’t and in such a way that did not reveal their personal opinion. This is not to say we should not make value judgements, only that we should be able to justify them on the basis of carefully sifted and named sources of information. We are not journalists!

So far so good. Observing the above enables us to avoid four major obstacles to objective thinking…
Confirmation Bias
Believing only that which supports one’s own prejudices and prejudices to the exclusion of anything else.

Availibility Heuristics
Using “Occam’s Razor” where faced with a problem go with the simplest solution as it is more likely to be best but without at least considering the more complicated alternatives

Above all be aware that all sources are not good sources, so be prepared to check them for bias. When dealing with input, whether it be mass/social media or everyday conversation apply the Atticus Finch approach to newspaper stories in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” IGNORE THE ADJECTIVES or replace them with neutral, non-emotionally charged words. What is left will bring you closer to the truth. Remember that one person’s terrorist is ever another’s freedom fighter.

There are over 40 of these and here I will recommend a long out of print paperback still available from second-hand dealers…
“Straight and Crooked Thinking” Robert H. Thouless, Pan Books Ltd., Last re-print 1956.
If nothing else it proves that the more things change, the more they do indeed stay the same.

In conclusion…
Please consider that there are four levels of Literacy (here defined as “response to Experience”)...Basic; Functional, Vocational and Critical. It has ever been my ambition,and I hope, yours to achieve the last whereby we automatically analyse everything thrown at us, remembering that the wise learn from everyone and everything; the semi-wise from only their own experience and the truly stupid who have no need to learn anything... as they know the answers already.

My next article will consist of fieldwork concerning a certain west country statue.

To ex-student Lucy.
Should you ever read this...just see what you started! Thank you!