Speaking about education, Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.’’ Critical thinking is a central goal of Jesuit education, and at LMU you’ll be asked to think critically and intensively in every class. Dr. King suggests that critical thinking results in our ability to inform intelligence with character, and strengthen character with intelligence. Please talk about a situation that demanded critical thinking from you, and how your choices or decisions integrated intelligence and character.
My hands were sweating, tightly grasping the note cards with my presentation carefully written out. I stood with four other teammates in front of teachers, parents, mentors, and students who eagerly waited for our opening arguments. The audience stared wide-eyed at the title screen of our powerpoint presentation that read in bold black letters: Legalizing Prostitution.
Heads turned and I heard whispering. I knew we would be on stage for longer than any other group, we would face challenging questions and respond to judgmental comments. I had to answer with confidence and poise. For me, standing up in front of a group of people and presenting an issue with the heaviness of prostitution was nothing short of terrifying.
Our junior year-end project required that we write a constitutional bill, create a presentation that convinces an audience to vote “yes”, and get the bill passed. Topics were randomly assigned: other groups focused on topics like universal health care, ISIS, marijuana, and LGBTQ rights. Those other groups fought for bills that were not widely controversial; however, we had a bigger challenge. We had to set aside our ethical and personal beliefs and focus on evidence, statistics, and persuasiveness.
The project demanded our intense critical thinking. How should we present our bill so that people will set aside their preconceived beliefs? How will we stand in front of an audience and hold back from diving into the emotions surrounding the issue? How can we answer questions that target the inhumanity of sex working with educated answers?
If we only focused on research, read primary sources, and weighed the pros and cons, it wouldn’t be enough to get the bill passed. We had to put aside our own stereotypes and prejudice and open our minds to new and different perspectives. We also needed strategies that combined evidence with persuasive elements and created emotional ties and empathy from the audience. I remembered learning about alcohol prohibition in 1920 during history class. The basis of our fight emerged from the lessons learned during prohibition. We showed how legalization will increase the safety of an unhealthy practice that will continue to exist whether legal or not. We gave overwhelming evidence that lack of regulation increases the danger for those involved in the industry. We provided stories of how criminalization endangers prostitutes and leads to violence, rape, and murder. Our bill didn’t target the ethics of sex work; it targeted the safety of sex workers. This was the insight we needed to get through to the audience.
The results came in. We won the vote with 86%, but the real victory was what we gained from courage under pressure. This project, in all its difficulty and controversy, challenged me to open my mind to new perspectives and persuade others to do the same.