Fact or Opinion?

A sharp-eyed professor of philosophy — and parent — explains why so many college students today do not believe in moral truths. It starts early . . .

When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

If the glaring flaw in those definitions does not smack you in the face, read them again carefully, and think about what they are saying. Or let the professor explain it for you:

Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). . . .

But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both.

But it gets worse:

Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion. . . . This is repeated ad nauseum: any claim with good, right, wrong, etc. is not a fact.

The schools where this misinformation is taught insist on holding their students to high standards of integrity: treat others with respect, don’t cheat, work hard, etc. But the kids are not dumb. These are value judgments that (as the signs over the bulletin board remind them) are merely opinions. They can internalize them or dismiss them at their leisure.

The curriculum sets our children up for doublethink. They are told that there are no moral facts in one breath even as the next tells them how they ought to behave.

In the real world outside the classroom, moral truths exist whether anyone believes them or not. Our children must be equipped with the tools to find and apply those truths in their lives.

Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct.

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