Are social justice and critical thinking synonyms?

A disturbing illness is being discovered on college campuses around the country. Not all universities are infected, but the disease is spreading.

Students are being taught that the social justice religion is the equivalent of critical thinking. According to some Progressive educators, speaking the language of social justice makes one a critical thinker. Using the language of opportunity and classical liberalism are signs of uncritical thinking. I disagree.

Here are the definitions of critical thinking and social justice respectively:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”.[1] Classically, “justice” (especially corrective justice or distributive justice) ensured that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles,[2] and received what was due from society. Social justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation.[3] The relevant institutions can include education, health care, social security, labor rights, as well as a broader system of public services, progressive taxation and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equal opportunity, equality of outcome, and no gross social injustice.

This issue is raging around the country. On this Granite Grok podcast I addressed this issue after our university president equated critical thinking skills and social justice. I believe the conversation outlines the terms of the debate effectively, while promoting the freedom, opportunity, responsibility, and resilience narrative – that I call common sense conservatism.

This is a copy of a letter I sent to our university president in response to the launching of his social justice initiative. I believe in intellectual diversity.

I am an adjunct faculty member in Arts and Sciences. I am teaching Intro Psychology and Human Sexuality this year. I taught Sociology last year. I deeply resonated with your speech about critical thinking and indeed I see building critical thinking skills as my primary job as an instructor. Chapter 1 in the Myers Psychology text is critical thinking. I think about that every class and do my best to provoke, stimulate, prod, and challenge my students at every turn. I raise controversial issues constantly and push the envelope of social conformity as far as I can. I require them to participate in discussions. I love that part of my job.

Because this is something I believe I do well, I’d love to help you raise the critical thinking bar at (university removed). I have included my resume. I am an activist, change agent, and community builder in my other professional life. I push people to think outside the box and challenge dominant narratives every day. I bring my systems thinking as a family therapist and Authentic Happiness Coach to every encounter. I operate in multiple communications mediums. If you would like to bring in a resource person for this initiative, I think I could make a substantial difference as a change agent at (university removed).

Please allow me to hypothesize. I see students in my classes that are stuck in politically correct dominant narratives and afraid to look stupid by speaking out even if they might disagree. I hear some troublesome stories from some of them about having to endure political proselytizing in other classrooms. I’ve been told that my approach is refreshing. I see an opaqueness in some of them that almost looks like what one would see in a victim. I see kids sitting in the back of the room or trying to hide in their seats so as not to expose themselves to scrutiny. I see cultural effects that are largely unspoken, and that sometimes go away when they experience more safety as the class matures. Mostly I see a lot of middle and upper middle class kids from decent (little c) fairly conservative families that want someone to identify with their values. When I do they open up.

The research is pretty clear that there are not many conservative or libertarian professors at universities. Thus, I am in the minority as a Liberty Conservative. Honestly, I have some serious concerns about the imposition of social justice narratives via education or human services if those narratives are not balanced by freedom and opportunity narratives. I suppose what I am saying to be blunt, is that political correctness is the antithesis of critical thinking. When one narrative is sanctioned by the power players in a system, authentic conversation stops. Perhaps I could help you stimulate rich dialogue in the professor class that would flow downward to the students. thus creating dynamic change energy throughout the University.

I have never met you but I thought I would take a risk and react to your thoughts and let you know who I am and what I have to offer. Please let me know if I can be of service. Thank you.

Let’s strive to help our students become true critical thinkers, not merely mouthpieces for political correctness.


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