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2015.44: One out of Seven—an F for McBrayer

Justin McBrayer laments the fact that our public schools are teaching our children that there are no moral facts, and therefore no moral truths. He gives seven examples, from online fact vs. opinion worksheets, of facts that kids are taught are opinions:

— Copying homework assignments is wrong.— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior. — All men are created equal. — It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism. — It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol. — Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat. — Drug dealers belong in prison.

All of these are opinions, with one possible exception of the sixth:

Copying homework assignments is wrong: May be true or false depending on circumstances. If by "assignments" you mean "the description of work to be done," the statement is wrong. If by "assignments" you mean "the answers," the statement may be right or wrong depending on the circumstances—some assignments require students to collaborate.

Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior: Often untrue. Aside from the repetition of others' words in literature and drama, occasionally an emphatic curse adds to communication.

All men are created equal: Demonstrably false. Some men are taller, some shorter; some are smarter, some dumber; some more handsome, some less.

It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism: McBrayer cannot possibly be serious. This is his opinion, which some others share; they are wrong. Is something that is falsely believed to be true strictly speaking an opinion? ((Here's an example, from the same worksheets, of a statement described as fact:

It is illegal to yell out "Fire" in a crowded movie theater.

The instructions on the worksheet do not say to assume that the statement is true. If true, this would be fact. But it is untrue.))

It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol: It's okay for them to vote, drive, have sex, get married, and die in foreign wars, but it's wrong for them to drink alcohol?

Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat: If true, this would qualify as a fact. I'm not convinced, but I'll give him this one out of mercy.

Drug dealers belong in prison: Now McBrayer is just clowning me. Some drug dealers belong in prison, maybe. But the owner of the corner liquor store? Your local barista? The checker selling cigarettes at Kroger?

In short, McBrayer is unable to distinguish opinion from fact, and thinks that society would be better if schools were not teaching kids to do so.

I disagree, of course. I'd rather live in a world of people who critically question opinions such as those that McBrayer adopts—do drug dealers belong in prison? is it worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our countries from terrorism?—than in a world of McBrayers who think that their opinions are fact.

McBrayer uses the example, it’s wrong to kill people for fun, as something that schools are "teaching children … is not true." While I agree with McBrayer that there is moral truth, and that this statement is true, I'm more comfortable with a citizenry willing to examine this, as well as McBrayer's opinions, than one that uncritically accepts them all as true. That it is wrong to kill people for fun is easily enough derived from other moral principles and intuitions; that It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol is not.


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