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Column: Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Lack of critical thinking is at root of current divisiveness

My philosophy professor, Sister Audrey, was a Rhodes scholar and imparted tidbits of knowledge, which she referred to as “cataclysmic insights into a true reality.”

“Don’t throw the baby out with the wash,” she’d say. That’s precisely what I told some La Cañada teens that I tutored through a term project concerning the current polarization of America. The students thought it strange that — before they typed a single letter — I insisted on a lengthy philosophical discussion regarding the current reality. I hope they’d see the method of my madness and understand that critical analysis is a duration of time.

I found it disconcerting that divisiveness is their only reality. Red or blue, the judge or the doctor, blue or black lives, life or abortion, free speech or political correctness, heterosexual or same sex, and truth or fake news are among today’s maladies. I suspect the mantra “e pluribus unum,” out of many one, is an antiquated political axiom. This once defined our strength.

Today our children live in media ghettos where there is no credentialing for political expression. One merely expresses a thought yet, there is no accountability. The fact that anyone can publish anything that gains views and clicks is replacing critical thinking and analysis. Students encounter views they already agree with, which translate into partisan talking points. The new media is the new politics, and the most reliable way to succeed is to be the loudest, most outrageous and most polarizing. Technology has not brought us together; instead, we are segmented more than ever.


“Dr. Joe, you’re OK for an old guy,” one of the boys said.

“When you say that, you’d better smile,” I replied.

I knew exactly what prompted that statement. You’ve seen the comments regarding “old white men.” Throughout social media, they’re rampant. I assume today’s litmus test is a function of the shade of one’s skin, or for that matter their chronological age. I’ve two strikes against me, I thought.

I explained that such comments are the root cause regarding a polarized America.


“Is this not a racist comment?” I asked. “Is marginalizing a young black male because of skin color or ethnicity worse than marginalizing an old white guy?”

I tried to explain there are no gradients for morality. The Roman goddess Justina, who symbolizes the totality of justice, is blindfolded. The Roman mythologists sculpted her is such a way as to show that morality is not predicated upon any variable other than itself. Subsequently, in a perfect world, judgment is not a product of one’s gender, allegation, believability, or the “group think” that may or may not support a supposition.

I attempted to explain the concept of duplicity, and that intellectual dishonesty is the antithesis of common ground. There’s nothing I despise more. Well, maybe the Boston Red Sox.

Perhaps Mazie Hirono, the senator from Hawaii, should attempt to understand Justina’s symbolism before implying that a woman who makes a statement needs to be believed. Critical thought is considered the highest form of intelligence. When our elected officials are not near this caliber, such a spectacle as last week’s Senate hearing is evident.

“Guys, always ask yourself, what would Atticus Finch do? That’s your barometer.”

They appeared puzzled, “Who’s Atticus Finch?” one inquired.

“What?” I countered, “To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sometimes I feel as though our country receives its shine from a “black star,” whose light ceased billions of years ago, yet continues to fall to Earth. Since its light is finite, I suppose one day we will have our reckoning. But until that happens, I told my two prodigies that they are tasked with keeping our ship illuminated.


Two days later, I proofed their final report. Their work had no similarity to what we spoke of. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I’m just an old white guy.

Joe Puglia is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. His wife, Kaitzer, is a member of the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board. Reach Joe at Visit his website at

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. His wife, Kaitzer, is a member of the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board. Reach Joe at Visit his website at