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Kennon-Green & Co. Fiduciary Financial Advisor, Wealth Management, Global Value Investing

Mental models, which we use a lot on this site and a term which is borrowed from thinker Charles Munger, are a concept taken from a school of thought called critical thinking.  They are ideas that allow us to take claims, ideas, and concepts, examining them to determine if they are accurate or understand what is going on in a given situation.  There are between 100 big ideas that explain a lot about economics, sociology, biology, physics, politics, social networks, wealth, class, and human systems.  When you use this approach, it changes your life.  It is easily one of the most important concepts I learned that empowered me to be so successful earlier than most other people.

We’ve talked about a lot of individual mental models over the years, including, among others:

Just this morning, I had a conversation in another post that led me to adding another to my list: The Road to Hell, which is a term borrowed from C.S. Lewis that describes incremental escalation of situations that happens so slowly the players involved don’t realize the extent of their degradation.

To understand how mental models are related to critical thinking, it should be evident when you realize the mission of the approach:

  • The definition of critical thinking is “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence”.
  • The purpose of critical thinking is to teach people how to use the scientific method and available evidence to remove bias to determine if a claim is, “Always True, Sometimes True, Partly True, or False”.

For example, if someone were to show up and promise to turn your $100,000 into $10,000,000 over 15 years by investing in blue chip stocks, critical thinking would allow you to recognize that stocks have historically returned around 10% per annum before costs, inflation, and taxes on a long-term basis.  Using average rates of return, the maximum expected outcome for a comparable portfolio would be $417,725.  The person asking for your money is promising a return that is 24x higher than expected for the asset class, meaning it is almost assuredly fraud.  You could label this promise “false” with a high degree of certainty based on mathematics and historical evidence.

[mainbodyad]This critical thinking approach empowers you to live a better life.  Instead of seeing your savings evaporate as a conman runs away with them, you can turn him down flat and avoid the situation entirely.

A cornerstone of critical thinking is self-examination and criticism; to decide what you are doing incorrectly so you can rectify it.  This includes examining your habits, your temperament, your speech, and your behavior.  An example of this critical thinking approach is an NFL team or heart surgeon watching game tapes or surgery footage to see what mistakes were made or which areas could use improvement.

I strive to get each of you to follow a critical thinking approach, constantly reinforcing that you shouldn’t outsource your thinking.  You should never accept something because I said it, your parents said it, your friends said it, your church said it, your political party said it, or your boss said it.  You need to look at the evidence, and come to your own conclusions.

There is no better system I have seen that elevates man above the animals in such a glorious way.  To quote Descartes, “I think therefore I am”.

The Texas GOP Party Platform Calls for Officially Banning Critical Thinking Education In Public Schools

At first, when I heard this, I thought it was certainly a joke or misinformation designed to hurt the Texas Republican Party by their political enemies.  I never imagined it could be real.  I found the source document myself and read it.  

It’s true.  The news story is true.  The Texas GOP officially opposes teaching critical thinking and knowledge-based education in schools.  That isn’t hyperbole – it’s their own language!

Texas State Capitol Building

The Texas GOP has called for the opposition teaching critical thinking in the school system.
Image Licensed Under Attribution to Daniel Mayer Under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts

Here is the evidence from the party’s official site on Saturday, January 26th, 2013, shortly after Midnight: The 2012 Texas GOP Platform (PDF).

On page 12, the exact quote is as follows:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. 

In other words, teaching a child how to examine situations with which they are unfamiliar and come to a self-sufficient way to solve the problem is, according to the Texas GOP, an affront to parental rights.  (What about the child’s rights?  Virtually all successful jobs will require significant levels of critical thinking in the knowledge-based economy, from computer programmers and biologists to economists and journalists.)  For more information on the basics of Higher Order Thinking Skills, here is a PDF that explains the methods and processes.

[mainbodyad]And what is Outcome Based Education?  It’s an entire school of philosophy that, in part, removes the ability to curve grades – students are judged absolutely based on mastery of the topic, not relative to their peers.  You either know how to do chemistry and algebra or you don’t.  The purpose of Outcome Based Education was that all students should be able to leave high school, fully educated and able to demonstrate a master of mathematics and literature so that remedial courses were not necessary upon enrollment in college.  In an OBE system, the need for a remedial course means, by definition, the high school failed to do its job.

In other words, in an OBE system, not everyone gets a medal.  You can either do the work or you can’t.  While not perfect (a major concern is the social temptation to lower testing standards to increase reported figures), in a global economy where you can either do the engineering work or not, edit the paper or not, or do the physics calculations to develop the jet engine or not, it’s time we stop telling people it’s okay if you try.  Trying isn’t enough.  You must be able to do the work competently.  It’s time to be honest about it.

To quote a well known scientists, there is coming a fight between the Druids and the Intellectuals.  You have one of the largest political bodies in the United States calling for the active practice of prohibiting students from learning to examine evidence and think for themselves.  I’d say the war has already begun.  

Between this and the recent court case in which a Texas school district got a Texas judge to say that it is not a violation of a student’s constitutional right to be constantly tracked by a mandatory chip so administrators can monitor student location at all times, I don’t know what is going on down there.  Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would have burned the place to the ground by now.

The national party has to get these anti-intellectuals under control.  They are poisoning the brand.  It makes no sense that people like this are lumped with men like Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey.  At what point do rational, good men (and women) stand up and say, “No, the fact that the earth is round is not a manner of opinion.  All evidence points to the contrary.  Not all viewpoints are worthy of equal consideration on this matter.”?