24 September 2008: Voters beware: There’s a lot on your plate in 2008

Voters beware: There’s lots on your plate in 2008

“Huh, hell! Pay attention!”

That is a line my sister would deliver to anyone who seemed confused, not focused or blissfully toddling along in la-la land.

It’s hard to imagine any American merrily rolling along with the bottom of the economy falling out. But up to the gathering of the economic forces in the Perfect Storm last week in what can be dubbed Hurricane Bush, lipstick had been the measurement of our attention span and cognitive abilities.

Conservatives are an intriguing species when it comes to learning. On the one hand, they bemoan the state of our public schools, demand high standards measured only through standardized tests, and implicitly attack teachers vis-à-vis their unions.

Then they turn around and ridicule and label as elitists those who do the “book learning,” calling them pointy-headed intellectuals.

I guess you’re smart only if you’re dumb, which explains a lot about the Palin hoopla, the Republican celebrity candidate.

There’s no need to go into the significance of this year’s election given its portent for the direction of the country, progressive or regressive, but for Colorado voters there is added motivation to focus attention now, rather than later: 18 constitutional amendments and adjustments.

Given that, this election, arguably, demands that voters think more critically than any previous one, and critical in this case doesn’t necessarily mean negative or disparaging.

Social studies teachers spend a considerable amount of time developing critical thinking skills within their students. The state, though, doesn’t see fit to measure that proficiency through its testing, which then suggests some very critical things about standardized tests being used as measuring tools for schools. Critical in this sense does mean negative and disparaging.

Pointy-headed intellectuals at the Grayson H. Walker Teaching Resource Center at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga point out essential elements of critical thinking as well as characteristics of critical thinkers.

Referencing other authorities, they delineate eight characteristics of critical thinking: asking questions, defining a problem, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions and biases, avoiding emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, considering other interpretations, and tolerating ambiguity.

Citing B. K. Beyer in his book Critical Thinking, the authors add that “critical thinkers are skeptical, open-minded, value fair-mindedness, respect evidence and reasoning, respect clarity and precision, look at different points of view, and will change positions when reason leads them to do so.”

There is no question that the amount of information about the candidates and issues, accurate or not, is overwhelming, even for those who “have time” to sift through it all. For evidence, look at the summaries of the 18 ballot initiatives in last week’s Courant, spanning 10 pages.

Nevertheless, being a responsible voter demands that we find time to become familiar with it all. The alternative is the complete loss of our democracy, a path we already are traveling, from warrant-less wiretaps to the so-called National Security Letter that allows the FBI to snoop into all your stuff while denying you due process to challenge them, because citizens failed to pay attention.

The range of ballot initiatives on our state ballot spreads from defining a zygote as a human being and workers’ rights issues to affirmative action programs and tax policies.

As we witness more and more of the traditional way of life going the way of high-button shoes, so too, at least for this election, is the idea of going to the polls on Election Day to cast one’s ballot.

The ballot will be long and exhaustive. Even with a cheat sheet, it will take time for the voter to wend his/her way through it.

A few tips: If you haven’t as yet, register to vote by October 6. Submit an application to Clear Creek Clerk and Recorder Pam Phipps for an absentee/early voting ballot no later than October 28.

Try to set aside a stretch of time each day to study the issues. When your Blue Book with the summaries and pros and cons of the ballot initiatives arrives from the state, study it with a dispassionate eye.

Avoid reaching conclusions based upon TV ads; they are propaganda posing as substance, which appeal to emotion rather than reasoning.

Phipps says that October 31 is the last day to apply for an over-the-counter mail-in ballot as well as being the last day for early voting in the County Clerk’s office.

That is the treat. After Halloween, voting will be trickier.

Focus your attention. On November 5th it will be over—maybe.

It will be demanding, but a small price to pay to live in a democracy.

After all, George Washington and his ragtag group of volunteers didn’t freeze their behinds off at Valley Forge so we could whine about life while playing with the Blackberries John McCain invented. Hell, they can do that in China.

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