CRT 120 – Critical Thinking and Social Justice
About 10 students
In this course, students will build and apply critical thinking skills, including making and evaluating arguments, to questions of social inequalities, especially those related to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Using a variety of texts, students will look at ways that existing power structures benefit some groups and limit or oppress others. Students will be asked to reflect on their own experiences and attitudes and consider what they can do to build a more just and equal society [Department course description, edited by me].
In my Critical Thinking and Social Justice class at BMCC, my teaching innovation was to help students reflect on their diverse experiences, including their sense of social identity, with the hope that reflection on their experiences will give them a sense of purpose in the class. Reflection ideally enables students to relate the concepts and arguments in the class to their own unique life experiences.
The reading I used was “Race, Truth, and Our Two Realities,” (NYT) by Chris Lebron. It is an article about moral disagreement and how disagreement by itself need not imply that there aren’t objective facts about the world. The article suggests that the experiences of Black people are often not taken into account by those who don’t think there is racial injustice in American society.
After reading the article, I invite students to reflect on experiences that may have informed their beliefs about social injustice in American society. I give brief examples relating to class, race, gender, sexuality, and disability, in order to give students clarity about what I’m looking for.
The “reflection” took the form of a discussion, in which I gave several concrete examples, and a written self-reflection.
Why did you select this project? How does it relate to identity and purpose?
The article is about how experiences of African Americans inform their belief that racial injustice is real. The article is also about how moral disagreement, by itself, does not mean that there aren’t objective facts about the world. More precisely, people in positions of privilege often fail to see that certain social facts limit or oppress marginalized members of society. Students are invited to relate their own identities and social position to the arguments in the article, in order to enable them to see the relevance of the class.
What advice do you have for other faculty who would like to implement a similar project?
During the class discussion component of this project, it is important to create a space for students to be honest about themselves, their experiences, as well as what they perceive in others’ experiences, whether it is about the experiences of friends, family, or even acquaintances. I find that giving brief examples relating to class, race, gender, sexuality, and disability before students are asked to share helps gives students an idea of what I am looking for.
I have shared instructions for two assignments. The goal is for students to read the Lebron article early-on in the semester, creating the conditions for students to continue to think about their own experiences throughout the semester, as well as to consider the experiences of others. It may even be wise to bring up the topic again at a later time.
Lebron IBE Assignment
This assignment asks students to give the central argument from the text. “IBE” stands for inference to the best explanation. It is a type of argument that takes all the relevant facts and infers a conclusion that explains why all of the relevant facts are true. The conclusion that Lebron draws is that racial injustice is real; he draws this conclusion from a number of social facts, including the reality of police brutality and unequal housing, education, and health outcomes within Black communities.
This assignment has students write about how their own experiences may inform their beliefs about social justice. I give this assignment within a couple of weeks of teaching and discussing the Lebron article. I have students write something up only after we have had a discussion in class both about the Lebron article and about their experiences.