As a child I had always enjoyed watching TV shows like Rugrats or movies like The Lion King or A Bug’s Life. I remember my older brother and myself snuggled up between my mom and dad on our living room couch with a tub of popcorn. Eyes wide open, I would stare at the intensely bright television screen that lit up our otherwise pitch black living room as we passed around the popcorn and its buttery goodness. I would laugh hysterically at the funny scenes and hide in my dad’s side at the scary scenes. The Disney and Nickelodeon films would have me completely immersed, and my naïve self would take in all of it. Looking at them now, the movies are still extremely entertaining to me, and they even carry sentimental and nostalgic value; however, as I am more cognizant, I can catch aspects of films that I was unable to catch when I was younger. I can identify themes, motifs, and morals of films compared to when I was a child. Now I find it funny, in retrospect, those films weren’t really what I thought they were about at all.
I mean sure, children’s movies are children’s movies. They are often times overly simplistic so that children can enjoy them. There will obviously be images on the surface that are easy to identify. Like when watching The Lion King, its easy to understand that Simba and Mufasa are the good guys while Scar and his hyenas are the bad guys. Similarly, in this Critical Thinking and Writing course with Professor Leither, it is easy to identify that vegetarianism has several benefits such as environmental and sustainable benefits, as well as social and personal benefits, or how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were psychopathic killers, and all of the events surrounding the Columbine High School Massacre unfortunately fell into place.
However, as we progressed through the course, and as we began to analyze the books Eating Animals and Columbine or watch films like This is Water or Bowling for Columbine, we began to take a more critical approach to what information was served to us. Eating Animals provided an in-depth and well researched investigation regarding the food industry, yes we get that. But it is the manner by which this information is presented to us. Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of Eating Animals, stepped into the field of factory farming acquiring first hand experiences, spoke to a multitude of individuals involved in the industry, and studied the research of other investigators. Similar with Dave Cullen, the author of Columbine; however, I believe that there is much more to this course than just “oh it’s just Professor Leither trying to convert us to vegetarianism”, or “why are we discussing school shootings in a class about food?!”, and I think I’ve figured it out. Although there are several important morals to take away from this course such as the impacts of limiting meat consumption and enforcing gun control laws, there is an overarching concept that this class entails when we look at the bigger picture, and that is this – to look at the world from different perspectives.
Yes, I said it. This course has nothing to do with the harms of eating animals or the atrocities committed by the two teenage boys in 1999. It’s not that I believe those things we learned about weren’t educational, because I do find those important to understand from a social aspect. But to broaden our worldview, viewing things from a new perspective is a major key.
Back in autumn 2015, we began the course with the film This is Water. Essentially, the film discussed this very concept of viewing the world with an open mind. The narrator of the video, David Foster Wallace, reflects on how we often live with a “default setting”. We operate with an “automatic unconscious belief that [we] are the center of the world and [our] immediate needs should determine its priorities”. Applying this to how we view literature or the news, we should take what we read and hear with a grain of salt and try to evaluate what ever we can about it.
In Columbine, Cullen discusses how news reporters posted outside Columbine High School while the massacre was unfolding, and the news outlets were releasing information to the public that had not been confirmed, such as Eric and Dylan’s connect to the “Trench Coat Mafia” (149); however, rather than going along with the misinformation, Cullen identified this and tried to provide the most thorough set of data reports encompassing the tragedy.
The concept of viewing the world and information from different perspectives incorporates everything thing we learned throughout the course. We were taught to evaluate literature and media critically – hence critical thinking in the title of the course (shocker! I know), and to evaluate our sources during research, and to think critically while writing. Professor Leither challenged us to strive to have our own voices. And rather than accept everything we hear, maybe we should stop and – think about it.
Bowling for Columbine. By Michael Moore. Dir. Michael Moore. 2002.
Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.
Dead Poets Society. Dir. Peter Weir. Perf. Robin Williams. Touchstone, 1989.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.
Wallace, David Foster. “This is Water.” 2005. Web.