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Ben Graffam

Mon, September 26, 2022 at 7:11 AM

Ben Graffam retired from teaching at International Baccalaureate East in Haines City. He is also the author of "Reimagining the Educated Mind," published by Rowman and Littlefield, in 2019.
Ben Graffam retired from teaching at International Baccalaureate East in Haines City. He is also the author of “Reimagining the Educated Mind,” published by Rowman and Littlefield, in 2019.

As a former educator I looked for learning engagements that encouraged students to think for themselves, to navigate divergent paths of understanding with confidence, and to come out on the other side with qualified precepts or corollaries that allowed real-world applications of their learning.

Often that meant dealing with differences between believing and knowing, with opinion and decision-making. Many people confuse these knowledge concepts, thinking their opinions are equivalent to evidence-based knowledge, and that what they believe is just as valid as what justified knowledge demonstrates. My hope was that students would work through these differences before they joined the real world.

We can see the damage that misconstruing these distinctions creates. Suddenly (it seems) we have a large amount of people who believe not only the claims of a stolen election but also that keeping top secret documents is OK even when the law clearly states it is not.

People often believe things that won’t happen or aren’t true, letting their opinions direct their decisions. The trouble is, knowledge and critical thought don’t work that way.

Decisions, when well made, are based on ethical judgments and intellectual rigor. Mental algorithms which involve empirical evidence and rational thought help a person make better, though not always perfect, decisions. Within those algorithms, honesty and integrity recognize the need to eliminate bias, or at least to set it aside.

Opinions, on the other hand, can be, and often are, founded on no facts or ethics at all. Many Americans believe the last election was stolen; many of the same believe Donald Trump had every right to keep top secret documents at home. But no matter how deeply they believe, they will not find evidence to show that either of these claims is defensible. Laws restrict particular documents from non-governmentally secured places, and evidence shows that no fraudulent voting played a role in the outcome of the 2020 election.

These people may have faith in the person who told them the election was stolen, but faith is not the way to go when navigating the difficult path of understanding.

I tried to get my students to see that in some situations, faith and belief are perfect methods, but in other situations, neither faith, nor belief works: more often than not, evidence matters.

Evidence is obtained systematically, by observing and collecting data, which is then analyzed and understood by rational, impartial minds. Someone seeing that the player who just sank the three pointer had her toe on the line knows the shot is only worth two points, no matter which team that someone is rooting for. Evidence makes a clear point.

The same is true for an election and for the laws regarding secret documents. Each time independent counters and observers audited the outcomes of different precincts around the country in the 2020 election the results were always stable. The election was not stolen. Evidence wins over belief in this situation.

As an educator, I knew this was an important concept of understanding, because I also knew that many people in our culture have not learned and do not follow that concept. Too many feel their beliefs were just as valid as the facts when it came to things like elections and securing top secret documents.

Now we see many politicians, elected to uphold the values of process and critical observation, and to understand the differences between belief and knowledge, speak against the systems that were put in place to protect and keep our republic.

That this doesn’t shock us shows how far our political biases have bent out of shape.

Our culture is mocking the process of understanding the world we live in. Rather than acknowledging the evidence of an accurately counted and properly audited election, people cast doubt upon the system of voting that has been a mainstay of our republic and a model of world government, all in the name of belief; rather than allowing the systems of justice that have been developed to prevent undemocratic processes to take hold, we allow name-callers to belittle and derail constitutional mandates, all in the name of belief.

The America many of us believe in comes from the knowledge that the systems we have put in place will work. Let’s hope the wiser heads of our nation, and those systems, prevail.

Ben Graffam retired from teaching at International Baccalaureate East in Haines City. He is also the author of “Reimagining the Educated Mind,” published by Rowman and Littlefield, in 2019.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: 




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