Friday, November 30, 2007

Today's Word--On Critical Thinking

TODAY'S WORD ON JOURNALISM—Friday, Nov. 30, 2007

On Critical Thinking:
“There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.”
—Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), Polish-born author, logician and scientist

About Today's WORD on Journalism

The 2007-08 Season Opener

The WORD has once again shimmied down the drainpipe at St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose and reemerges today to launch another horrific reign of punditry and verbiage.

(If you are one of my students--and if you are, everyone pities you--your assignment for tomorrow is to define and use in a sentence of 25 words or fewer both of those words. Note: Wikipedia is NOT an accepted source!

Compared to this new WORDish onslaught, Voldemort's reemergence was benign. This launch of the 12th season of the WORD (can that be correct?) has nothing to do with Harry Potter, despite the pleas in a recent NYTimes from JK Rowling that the Dark Lord and his sidekick, Dick Wormtail, send dementors and evil deans to rub me out. This request, I think, was embarrassing for all of us. And, seriously: does the vice president read the Times, anyway?

But the Potter reference does make a valid point: It is important when dealing with a monumental, multi-year saga like TODAY'S WORD ON JOURNALISM to recap for those addled few who survive into the 12th season, and for newbies as well.

Back-story: The WORD was concocted ("conceived" is, I think, altogether too grand) in 1995 or so as a way to get my students to pay attention to their email. Strange as it may sound, email was then a new and unpleasant disturbance of the general peace, and many students did not then spend 16 hours a day online. As a professor hoping to get and keep their attention while also instructing them, my object was that the WORD would give them something to think about before class, and which might go on their quizzes.

I think it's fair to say that this strategy was a dismal failure. Most of my students continue to ignore their daily WORDs and gaily accept point reductions on their quizzes for not knowing the day's wordish wisdom from philosophers ranging from Soren Kierkegaard to Brian Williams to Lisa Simpson.

But (as Ronald Weasley might say), I'm not "chuffed" about that. The WORD has become rather frighteningly popular with non-students—grown-ups, mostly, who actually ask to be afflicted or who send email addresses of unsuspecting friends/colleagues/parents/bosses, so that they might be victimized as well.

When the WORD was trundled into St. Mumbles Sanitarium by those nice white-jacketed men last spring, approximately 1,600 (mostly volunteer) victims subscribed to the direct email WORD list. More got the WORD by checking the website, and many more unsuspecting victims were forwarded the daily spam. As if that weren't bad enough, now the WORD has its own blogsite, and the Truly Deluded are invited to pay perfectly good money to get into the WORD's archives, which feature billions of Old Words in a mind-numbing and impenetrable cornucopia. So that's big news.

As usual, we launch this season with the ever-useful wisdom of the genial former colonial guv'ner of Virginia, whose high regard for both education and the press still rings with an increasingly popular fervor today. Enjoy!

“I thank God we have no free schools or printing, and I hope that we shall not have these for a hundred years. For learning has brought disobediences and heresy and sects into the world; and printing has divulged them and libels against the government. God keep us from both.”
--Sir William Berkeley, Governor, Virginia Colony, 1671

And that's the WORD.

* * * * *
TODAY'S WORD ON JOURNALISM is a free "service" available online daily, and sent by email directly to the 1,700 or so misguided volunteer subscribers around the planet. If you have recovered from whatever led you to subscribe and don't want it anymore, send "unsubscribe." Or if you want to afflict someone else, send me the email address and watch the fun begin. (Disclaimer: While I just quote 'em, I don't necessarily endorse 'em. All, in theory, contain at least a kernel of insight.)

Ted Pease, Professor of Interesting Stuff
Utah State University, Logan, Utah
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"Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little." -- Tom Stoppard