Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | April 3, 2007

Locally to nationally: Looking for critical thinking

“Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

My son, a high school sophomore, recently took the California High School Exit Exam, which he must pass to graduate. It’s a silly exercise because the CAHSEE tests only 8th-grade math and 10th-grade English. It requires scores of only 55 and 60 percent, respectively, to pass.

I’m glad that more students in South County are passing the CAHSEE, but there’s no sense in spending limited resources administering a test of 8th-grade and 10th-grade material as a high school graduation requirement.

The CAHSEE has another flaw: It doesn’t test critical thinking skills. The ability to use reason and logic to evaluate facts ought to be a basic component of every high school education. Sadly, and clearly, it’s not.

We see the critical thinking deficit in politics, for example, with the success of misleading, baseless, shameful attack ads like the ones used against Vietnam war heroes Sen. Max Cleland and Sen. John Kerry.

We see the critical thinking deficit in national policy, for example, in our marijuana laws. Despite the relative safety of marijuana compared to legal recreational drugs like tobacco and alcohol, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning doctors cannot even prescribe it.

American Scientist just published an article comparing the toxicity of recreational drugs. Marijuana was the least toxic of all the drugs studied. Alcohol, codeine and – of all things – nutmeg were significantly more toxic than marijuana.

Here’s conservative author Andrew Sullivan’s pithy summary of the American Scientist report from his blog, The Daily Dish:

“The least toxic drug known to humans is now illegal. The most toxic is available at Safeway. None of this makes any sense at all. And yet we continue to imprison people for ingesting substances far less harmful than others freely available. One has to wonder what the prohibitionists are smoking. Maybe nutmeg.”

We see the critical thinking deficit on this opinion page, for example, in Allen Lillie’s response to my recent column on medical marijuana.

He does not refute my main points – that the federal government is hypocritical and inconsistent in its controlled substance regulations, and that Morgan Hill should hold medical marijuana dispensaries to the same standards as other businesses.

Instead, Lillie asserts, without evidence of any kind, that “most of the marijuana club clients are twenty somethings with a prescription for ‘stress…’”

Critical thinkers require sources for assertions, but Lillie provides none.

Lillie asserts, again without evidence, that some doctors write medical marijuana prescriptions without physical examinations, and that some people buy marijuana from dispensaries to resell it.

Healthy skeptic that I am (putting aside the unfair implication to the contrary in Lillie’s letter), I give little credence to assertions without at least source information.

Some of Lillie’s allegations about medical marijuana abuses do happen with prescription drugs. In its consumer magazine, the FDA reports that “Prescription drugs commonly are diverted through fraudulent prescriptions, doctor-shopping, over-prescribing, and pharmacy theft.”

I wonder if Lillie would advocate closing all pharmacies in town and denying prescription medications to everyone because some people abuse the system.

The news is filled with reports of adults who purchase alcohol on behalf of minors and people who drink and drive.

Would Lillie advocate closing all bars, wineries and breweries in town and banning alcohol consumption? Prohibition failed when we tried it in the 1920s.

I simply can’t give any merit to the implication that because some people might abuse the medical marijuana dispensary system, medical marijuana should be unavailable to all.

Lillie endorses medical marijuana for patients with terminal illnesses. Why that senseless limitation to terminal illness?

Medical marijuana should be available for anyone whose doctor prescribes it, terminal or not. Nausea from chemotherapy, for example, deserves to be treated whatever the patient’s long-term prognosis.

Endorsing medical marijuana in theory while preventing patients from obtaining it is simply illogical. Limiting that medication arbitrarily to terminal patients is simply illogical.

In the spirit of Jefferson, I’m happy to combat illogic and champion reason.

“Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. … Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But, after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” ~ Buddha


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