I am a critical thinker.
When I was a student at Tuskegee Institute, I audited classes taught by history professor, W. J. Fluker, a graduate of Alabama State University and Notre Dame.
He insisted his students think critically about the issues they confronted on a daily basis. He gave essay exams. There was no right or wrong answers. His students were graded on how well they could frame the issue and support their argument.
When I was not sitting in his classroom, and had free time, I was sitting in his office reading books, pamphlets and arguing the critical issues of our time. Most of the issues we discussed in the early 1970s on the third floor of Huntington Hall are the recurring themes of issues which are shaping the 21st century: unemployment, shortages of fossil fuels, global warming, money, power and sex.
I credit the time spent in his class and office with enabling me to successfully complete law school and to hold my own in a court of law, when I practiced.
One thing I learn from “Brother Fluker,” as the students closest to him called him is that a critical thinker is not one who criticizes the right or wrongness of an issue, but the thinker who can elevate the issue to a higher plane for the betterment of the total society.
Oftentimes, when I post a provocative thread on social media, it is met with passionate language from people who want to criticize either the rightness or wrongness in the conduct. For instance, in a recent post I questioned whether the “Baltimore Mom” was the best representative of what a mother of the year should be.
Many people rushed in to support the “Baltimore Mom’s” actions in disciplining her son, who had been tossing bricks at Baltimore police officers in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody.
Many others took issue with the actions of the “Baltimore Mom” and labeled her a child abuser. Far too many people assumed I took issue with her.
I held neither of these positions.
Very few respondents thought critically enough to discuss the real issue: Is “Baltimore Mom” the standard we wish all mothers would follow? Are there parenting measures that could have been applied sometime between ages 1 and 15 to have prevented “Baltimore Mom” from resorting to such drastic disciplinary measures?
Those prone to less critical thinking were content to allow the mass media to frame the issue, as a choice between, I am in favor of this conduct or I am against this conduct. Such discussions leave no grounds for improving the social condition. The discourse tends to get bogged down in the murky mire of right or wrong, leaving little room for a teachable moment for young mothers living under conditions similar to “Baltimore Mom.”
Or consider my social media post the other day regarding the metamorphosis of Bruce Jenner, a male Olympic champion, who over the course of a lifetime decided he wanted to become a magazine cover girl.
I posited that the mass media in the first six months of 2015 had selected the Baltimore mom as the mother of the year and elevated Jenner as the model for the new feminism.
Jenner, as all humankind, has free-will to decide who he wants to become. I am comfortable with him being Caitlyn. Also, I am comfortable with the Baltimore mom disciplining her son in the manner she deems necessary.
The larger question for me has always been: Have our standards changed? Should more mothers be encouraged to model themselves after the “Baltimore mom?” Additionally, is the new feminism represented by Jenner now the norm?
I believe, as our society moves further into the 21st century, the discussion should be framed in this manner; rather than in the desultory rhetoric of whether the “Baltimore mom” should or should not be mother of the year or whether Jenner is or is not a woman.
The look and feel of our collective culture is changing. Any day now, the Supreme Court will release its ruling on whether homosexual marriages are equal under the law to heterosexual marriages. The effects of this court ruling may come as a “future shock” (a term coined by Alvin Toffler in the 1970s), to many Americans who have not thought through the changing landscape of America becoming the land of equality for yet another previously denied class of citizens. There has never been a major nation-state in the annals of human history to successfully endure the public blending of genders. Perhaps, American democracy will become the exception rather than the rule.
What is the media fascination with Jenner and the inner city mom? Are they to become the models by which other women should aspire in this century, which is to query, will they replace good old fashioned 20th century womanhood?
As William Shakespeare would say, “That is the question.”
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org