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Homework answers / question archive / Read the article and answer following qestions in 400-500 words

Read the article and answer following qestions in 400-500 words

Writing

Read the article and answer following qestions in 400-500 words.  This assignment is designed to ensure that you: Read and academically analyze the material presented; Think critically about the subject matter; articulate your ideas; and share your thoughts and questions. 

 

•What kind of Knowledges do we have? How do we acquire these types of knowledge?

•Describe Banks’ types of Knowledge and give examples.

• What is the difference between opinion/belief and informed knowledge?

•What does it mean that knowledge is constructed?

23

CHAPTER 2

Critical Thinking and Critical Theory

“Everyone has a right to their opinion.”

This chapter explains what it means to think critically about social justice. We explain the theoretical perspective known as “Critical Theory” and provide a brief overview of key ideas relevant to our approach.

Vocabulary to practice using: ideology; critical theory; social stratifica- tion; positionality; socially constructed; Enlightenment; positivism

Many of the concepts we present in this book are politically and emotionally charged. In order to help readers engage with these concepts most effectively, this chapter will review what it means to take a critical (as opposed to layperson’s) perspective.

The term critical has several meanings. The most common meaning is to find fault, to judge, or to criticize. However, this is not the way we use the term here. When we use critical, we refer to an intellectual skill of analysis—critical think- ing—as well as to a body of scholarship—Critical Theory. Critical thinking is a general approach, which means to think with complexity, to go below the sur- face when considering an issue and explore its multiple dimensions and nuances. Critical Theory is a scholarly approach that analyzes social conditions within their historical, cultural, and ideological contexts. Critical Theory is a complex theoret- ical perspective, and mastery requires ongoing study and practice. However, even a preliminary understanding of its principles can offer tools for thinking critically about knowledge.

Two Dimensions of Thinking Critically About Knowledge

One of the persistent myths of mainstream society is that the knowledge we study in schools is factual and neutral. Yet we know that knowledge evolves over time and is dependent on the moment in history and the cultural reference point of the society that accepts it. Thinking critically involves more than just acquiring new information in order to determine which facts are true and which false. It also

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24 Is Everyone Really Equal?

involves determining the social, historical, and political meaning given to those facts. This determination includes assessing the investment various groups may have in furthering or challenging those meanings in any particular historical mo- ment. For example, there was a time when it was not widely understood that the Earth is round. Common sense might tell us that it is flat, and anyone looking out over a vast landscape would have this sense confirmed. Yet when scientific reason- ing and more accurate technological methods for measuring the Earth emerged, the knowledge or “fact” that the Earth is flat was rewritten so that now we teach students that the Earth is spherical—or round.

Thus one dimension of thinking critically about knowledge is the acquisition of new information that may challenge our common sense (such as looking out the window and seeing what we believe is a flat landscape). In other words, to think critically means to continuously seek out the information that lies beyond our commonsense ideas about the world. Yet knowledge also involves understand- ing the meaning given to information (such as the meaning given to the journeys of explorers such as Columbus that are presumed to have debunked the idea of a flat Earth). We must understand what the political investments are in that mean- ing—in other words, who benefits from that knowledge claim and whose lives are limited by it?

Thus, thinking critically not only requires constantly seeking out new knowl- edge, but also understanding the historical and cultural context in which knowl- edge is produced, validated, and circulated. For example, while many might believe (and were perhaps taught in school) that people thought the Earth was flat until Columbus set sail for India, the reality is that many civilizations knew the Earth was round prior to Columbus. These civilizations included the ancient Greeks, Muslim astronomers, early Christian theologians, ancient Indian scholars, and Maya, Aztec, and Inca Indigenous peoples of what is today known as North, Cen- tral, and South America. Why, then, are we so familiar with the idea that everyone believed in a flat Earth until Columbus set sail? What are the cultural, political, and social investments in fostering this idea?

Considering the first dimension of thinking critically (acquisition of new in- formation), we would first seek new knowledge about other societies and their contributions (such as ancient Indigenous, Indian, and Islamic scientists). Now considering the second dimension of thinking critically (the meaning given to that “flat Earth until Columbus” knowledge), we would ask questions about the social and historical context of that knowledge. For example, in what contexts has the knowledge of societies other than European been hidden? Critical thinkers might argue that obscuring this knowledge promotes the idea of progress as a line moving from ancient and non-European societies (Indigenous, Indian, Islamic) to European and then to North American societies.

Practicing thinking critically helps us see the role of ideology in the construc- tion of knowledge about progress. It challenges the belief that knowledge is simply

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Critical Thinking and Critical Theory 25

the result of a rational, objective, and value-neutral process, one that is removed from any political agenda. The notion of value-free (or objective) knowledge was central to rationalizing the colonization of other lands and peoples that began in the 15th century. For example, if we believe that Columbus was simply an explorer and trader, we reinforce the idea of discovery as outside of political and ideological interests. The promotion of this idea has allowed dominant culture to ignore the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the transatlantic slave trade that his “discov- eries” set in motion.

Just as our commonsense understanding would have had us convinced that the Earth is flat (validated by looking out our windows), many of the arguments that we make in this book may also counter commonsense understandings. For example, common sense would tell us that because we do not believe in discrimi- nation, we do not engage in it. However, most discrimination is unconscious and takes place whether we intend to discriminate or not, despite genuinely held be- liefs in fairness and equity. If we think critically about this idea that we do not discriminate, we would discover that this belief is inaccurate. There is a great deal of research in the dynamics of discrimination that demonstrates again and again the power of discrimination to elude conscious awareness (Dovidio, Glick, & Rud- man, 2005; Greenwald & Krieger, 2006). Were we to consider the impact of the idea that we do not discriminate, we might discover that this idea actually allows discrimination to continue. Thus those who benefit from societal patterns of dis- crimination may be invested in not understanding the actual nature of discrimi- nation.

Thinking critically requires the ability to recognize and analyze how knowl- edge is socially constructed and infused with ideology. Critical thinking is not just acquiring new knowledge (today we know the Earth is round and not flat), it is also understanding the social meaning given to that knowledge (our social and political investment in the idea that before the Age of Discovery all people believed the Earth was flat).

A Brief Overview of Critical Theory

Our analysis of social justice is based on a school of thought known as Critical Theory. Critical Theory refers to a body of scholarship that examines how soci- ety works, and is a tradition that emerged in the early part of the 20th century from a group of scholars at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany (because of this, this body of scholarship is sometimes also called “the Frankfurt School”). These theorists offered an examination and critique of society and en- gaged with questions about social change. Their work was guided by the belief that society should work toward the ideals of equality and social betterment.

Many influential scholars worked at the Institute, and many other influen- tial scholars came later but worked in the Frankfurt School tradition. You may

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26 Is Everyone Really Equal?

recognize the names of some of these scholars, such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Mar- cuse. Their scholarship is important because it is part of a body of knowl- edge that builds on other social sci- entists’ work: Emile Durkheim’s re- search questioning the infallibility of the scientific method, Karl Marx’s analyses of capitalism and social stratification, and Max Weber’s anal- yses of capitalism and ideology. All of these strands of thought built on one another. For example, scientific meth- od (sometimes referred to as “positivism”—the idea that everything can be ratio- nally observed without bias) was the dominant contribution of the 18th-century Enlightenment period in Europe. Positivism itself was a response and challenge to religious or theological explanations for “reality.” It rested on the importance of reason, principles of rational thought, the infallibility of close observation, and the discovery of natural laws and principles governing life and society. Critical Theory developed in part as a response to this presumed infallibility of scientific method, and raised questions about whose rationality and whose presumed objectivity un- derlies scientific methods.

Efforts among scholars to understand how society works weren’t limited to the Frankfurt School; French philosophers (notably Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jacques Lacan) were also grappling with similar questions (this broader European development of Critical Theory is sometimes called “the continental school” or “continental philosophy”). This work merges in the North American context of the 1960s with antiwar, feminist, gay rights, Black power, Indigenous peoples, The Chicano Movement, disability rights, and other movements for social justice.

Many of these movements initially advocated for a type of liberal humanism (individualism, freedom, and peace) but quickly turned to a rejection of liber- al humanism. The logic of individual autonomy that underlies liberal humanism (the idea that people are free to make independent rational decisions that deter- mine their own fate) was viewed as a mechanism for keeping the marginalized in their place by obscuring larger structural systems of inequality. In other words, it fooled people into believing that they had more freedom and choice than socie- tal structures actually allow. Many of these social justice activists critiqued these societal structures and argued that social institutions were organized in ways that

?STOP: From a critical social justice framework, informed knowl- edge does not refer exclusively to academic scholarship, but also in- cludes the lived experiences and perspectives that marginalized groups bring to bear on an issue, due to their insider standing. How- ever, scholarship can provide useful language with which marginalized groups can frame their experiences within the broader society.

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Critical Thinking and Critical Theory 27

perpetuated the marginalization of women, and of Black, Indigenous, Chicano, disabled, and LGBT peo- ples. Many of these revolutionary movements were led by young activ- ists, and their ideas were in part in- formed by the theoretical and schol- arly literature they were studying in universities. The politics of the social justice movements aligned with aca- demic research showing that society is structured in ways that marginalize some to the benefit of others.

This broad-brush sketch of Crit- ical Theory is not the whole story. Critical Theory neither begins in Eu- rope nor ends in the United States and Canada. Critical Theory’s analysis of how society works continues to ex- pand and deepen as theorists from indigenous, postcolonial, racialized, and other marginalized perspectives add layers to our collective under- standing. Thus, to engage in a study of society from a critical perspective, one must move beyond common sense–based opinions and begin to grapple with all the layers that these various, complex, and sometimes di- vergent traditions offer.

In this book, our goal, rooted in Critical Theory, is to increase our readers’ understanding of these factors:

• Different levels of thinking: opinion versus critical thinking, layperson versus scholarly

• Political and ideological aspects of knowledge production and validation • Historical context of current social processes and institutions • Process of socialization and its relationship to social stratification • Inequitable distribution of power and resources among social groups

?STOP: “I’m looking out the win- dow and there’s a rock there, what do you mean there’s no human ob- jectivity? A rock is a rock. I see it with my eyes.” Yes, you see a rock, but the meaning, placement, and function of the rock is dependent upon human subjectivity—what you believe about what a rock is and where it should be; what you have been taught about rocks. For exam- ple, when is a rock an expensive gem and when is it something you toss aside to clear a path? When does a rock add beauty to your home and when does it make your home dirty?

?Social Stratification: The con- cept that social groups are rela- tionally positioned and ranked into a hierarchy of unequal value (e.g., people without disabilities are seen as more valuable than people with disabilities). This ranking is used to justify the unequal distribution of re- sources among social groups.

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28 Is Everyone Really Equal?

Why Theory Matters

Many people outside of academia find theory uninteresting. Theory often seems unnecessarily dense and abstract, far removed from our everyday lives. But, in fact, all of us operate from theory. Whenever we ask “how” or “why” about any- thing, we are engaged in theorizing; theory can be conceptualized as the learned cultural maps we follow to navigate and make sense of our lives and new things we encounter. Everything we do in the world (our actions) is guided by a worldview (our theory).

If you are a teacher, you might believe that theory is irrelevant to your prac- tice, but let’s consider a common scenario: Several students regularly come to school without a lunch. Your response will depend on where you see the problem located and what you see as your role in the problem (that is, how you theorize, or make sense of, what’s going on). If you theorize that the problem is about in- dividual families, that the students lack a lunch because their families don’t have the resources to attend to their children’s needs, you might direct the students to the free and reduced lunch program (perhaps assuming the family does not know about such programs). If you theorize that the problem is structural, you might see the students’ lack of lunch as representative of issues that go beyond the fam- ily and advocate at the governmental level. In fact, we can take free and reduced lunch programs for granted today because people became involved and worked to address some of the structural aspects of childhood poverty.

Consider the theoretical distinction between locating the problem in the in- dividual (it’s each family’s responsibility to provide for their own children) versus the collective (it’s a social responsibility to ensure that all children are provided for). These two theoretical frameworks will result in very different ways of making sense of, and responding to, the problem. Neither is neutral, but both will im- pact the problem in profoundly different ways (for example, some countries with a more collectivist approach, such as Japan and Finland, automatically provide school lunch for all children, not just low-income children. In so doing, they re- move the stigma associated with special programs).

The way we make sense of our world (or our theories about the world) is often invisible to us. But we cannot address issues of critical social justice without first examining the maps we are using to identify the problem and conceptualize its solutions. Further, awareness of our theoretical maps can lead to fundamental change in our behaviors. This is why understanding theory is not only relevant but also essential for social change to occur.

Knowledge Construction

One of the key contributions of critical theorists concerns the production of knowl- edge. Given that the transmission of knowledge is an integral activity in schools,

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Critical Thinking and Critical Theory 29

critical scholars in the field of education have been especially concerned with how knowledge is produced. These scholars argue that a key element of social injustice involves the claim that particular knowledge is objective, neutral, and universal. An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that objectivity is desirable or even possible. The term used to describe this way of thinking about knowledge is that knowledge is socially constructed. When we refer to knowledge as socially constructed we mean that knowledge is reflective of the values and in- terests of those who produce it. This concept captures the understanding that all knowledge and all means of knowing are connected to a social context.

In understanding knowledge as socially constructed, critical educators guide students along at least three fronts:

1. Critical analysis of knowledge claims that are presented as objective, neu- tral, and universal; for example, Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America

2. Critical self-reflection about their own social perspective and subjectivity; for example, how the Columbus myth and the teacher’s racial identity in- fluence what they know and teach about the history of North America

3. Developing the skills with which to see, analyze, and challenge ideological domination; for example, rewriting existing school lesson plans or curric- ula to reflect the complexities of the myth of discovery and the political investments in this myth

In these ways educators who teach from a critical perspective guide their stu- dents in an examination of the relationship between their frames of reference and the knowledge they accept and reproduce. Of course this is no easy task because for many Westerners the ideal of positivism (that European science followed rules and thus its findings are indisputable) is very powerful and deeply entrenched. It is challenging to guide people in a critical examination of knowledge that they have been taught is indisputable. Thus what critical educators often begin with is an examination of students’ own social positions and the relationship between those positions and the knowledge that they have.

For this reason the concept of positionality has become a key tool in analyzing knowledge construction. Positionality asserts that knowledge is dependent upon a complex web of cultural values, beliefs, experiences, and social positions. The ability to situate oneself as knower in relationship to that which is known is widely acknowledged as fundamental to understanding the political, social, and historical dimensions of knowledge. Positionality is a foundation of this examination.

James Banks is one scholar in education who has made significant contribu- tions to the understanding of knowledge as socially constructed. Banks (1996) explains that the knowledge we create is influenced by our experiences within various social, economic, and political systems. Thus who we are (as knowers) is

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30 Is Everyone Really Equal?

intimately connected to our group social- ization (including gender, race, class, and sexuality). For example, consider the Co- lumbus story. Whose racial perspective is reflected in the idea that the continent was “discovered”? Which racial groups may be invested in this story? Which racial groups may be invested in challenging it? Asking questions such as these develops a clearer picture of how “what you know” is connected to “who you are” and “where you stand.”

Banks’s knowledge typology has become a classic framework used by critical educators to help unravel how knowledge is validated. According to Banks, there are five types of knowledge:

Personal and cultural knowledge refers to the explanations and interpreta- tions people acquire from their personal experiences in their homes, with their family and community cultures. Personal and cultural knowledge is transferred both explicitly, such as direct lessons taught by family members on what consti- tutes politeness (e.g., “make eye contact with your elders”), as well as implicitly through messages such as what isn’t talked about (e.g., race or money).

Popular knowledge refers to the facts, beliefs, and various character and plot types that are institutionalized within television, movies, and other forms of mass-mediated popular culture. Concepts such as the ideal family, normal rela- tionships, and which kinds of neighborhoods are dangerous are all standardized through ongoing representations in popular culture. Because popular knowledge is widely shared, it serves as a common vocabulary and reference point. For in- stance, you might remember where you were when you heard about the death of Prince or David Bowie. If you asked, many people would know what you were referring to and be able to say where they were too.

Mainstream academic knowledge refers to the concepts, paradigms, theories, and explanations that make up the traditional and established canon in the behav- ioral and social sciences. This type of knowledge is based on the belief that there is an objective truth and that with the right procedures and methods it is possible to attain this truth. For example, many university courses teach theories that explain the psychological, physical, and intellectual development of children as a cohesive group. This development is said to occur through predictable stages that can be named, studied, and applied to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender identity.

? Positionality: The rec- ognition that where you stand in relation to others in society shapes what you can see and understand about the world.

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Critical Thinking and Critical Theory 31

School knowledge refers to the facts and concepts presented in textbooks, teachers’ guides, and other aspects of the formal curriculum designed for use in schools. School knowledge also refers to teachers’ interpretations of that knowl- edge. A critical component of school knowledge is not only what is taught, both explicitly and implicitly, but also what is not taught. School knowledge can also be thought of as canonized knowledge that has been approved or officially sanctioned by the state, for example, through textbooks or standardized tests. Many students are socialized to not question the textbook, but rather to accept it uncritically. Questioning school knowledge is often penalized (grades, test scores, tracking, and reprimand) in ways that have deep and lasting consequences.

Transformative academic knowledge refers to the concepts and explana- tions that challenge mainstream academic knowledge and that expand the canon. Transformative academic knowledge questions the idea that knowledge can ever be outside of human interests, perspectives, and values. Proponents of transfor- mative academic knowledge assume that knowledge is not neutral and that it re- flects the social hierarchies of a given society. Transformative academic knowledge recognizes that the social groups we belong to (such as race, class, and gender) necessarily shape our frame of reference and give us a particular—not a univer- sal—perspective. Therefore, each of us has insight into some dimensions of social life but has limited understanding in others.

Example of Knowledge as Socially Constructed

Let’s examine knowledge construction through a specific example. In what is con- sidered to be a seminal study on social class, Jean Anyon (1981) asked elementary aged students to respond to variations on the simple question, “What is knowl- edge?” Their answers revealed that their definitions were largely dependent on which social class positions they held (see Figure 2.1).

Children who attended schools that served primarily poor and working-class families most often said that knowledge was “remembering things,” “answering questions,” and “doing pages in our workbooks.” Children who attended affluent schools serving primarily upper-class families said things such as “you think up ideas and then find things wrong with those ideas,” “it’s when you know things really well,” and “figuring out things.”

As can be seen from these responses, how these students conceptualized knowledge was shaped by the intersection between their social class and the insti- tution of schooling. This institution provides students with very different educa- tion based on their position in society and the resources they have access to. This is profoundly significant because the kind of knowledge we receive in schools has concrete implications for our later positions in life.

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32 Is Everyone Really Equal?

Figure 2.1. Jean Anyon Study

Question Working-class schools Middle-class

schools

Affluent professional

schools

What is knowledge?

“To know stuff.” “Doing pages in our books and things.” “Worksheets.” “You answer ques- tions.” “To remember things”

“To remember.” “You learn facts and history.” “It’s smartness.” “Knowledge is something you learn.”

“You think up ideas and then find things wrong with those ideas.” “It’s when you know something really well.” “A way of learn- ing, of finding out things.” “Figuring out stuff.”

Where does knowledge come from?

“Teachers.” “Books.” “The Board of Ed.” “Scientists.”

“Teachers.” “From old books.” “From scientists.” “Knowledge comes from ev- erywhere.” “You hear other people talk with the big words.”

“People and com- puters.” “Your head.” “People—what they do.” “Something you learn.” “From going places.”

Could you make knowl- edge, and if so, how?

No. (15) Yes. (1) Don’t know. (4) One girl said, “No, because the Board of Ed makes knowledge.”

No. (9) Yes. (11) “I’d look it up.” “You can make knowledge by lis- tening and doing what you’re told.” “I’d go to the li- brary.” “By doing extra credit.”

No. (4) Yes. (16) “You can make knowledge if you invent some- thing.” “I’d think of something to discover, then I’d make it.” “You can go explore for new things.”

Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2017). Is everyone really equal? : An introduction to key concepts in social justice education. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from kwantlen-ebooks on 2020-06-29 16:13:03.

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Critical Thinking and Critical Theory 33

Thinking Critically About Opinions

It is important to distinguish between opinions, which are often based in common- sense understandings, and critical thinking, which is based on expertise through study. Unfortunately, popular culture promotes the idea that all opinions are equal. Although popular culture is not an educational space per se, it does play an im- portant role in normalizing the idea that all opinions are equally valid.

However, critical thinking is not simply having different opinions; critical thinking results in an informed perspective after engaging with new evidence and accounting for multiple layers of complexity. Simply having an opinion is not predicated on any accounting for new information or understanding of complex- ity; popular opinions tend to be superficial and anecdotal and do not require that we understand an issue at all. For example, although someone might disagree that social injustice exists, to be credible they must root their argument in an under- standing of the knowledge that has already been established and demonstrate how their opinion brings new evidence for consideration. From a scholarly perspective, offering anecdotal evidence that social injustice does not exist (e.g., “In today’s society, everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of race, class, or gender”) is equivalent to the claim, “I looked out my window and the Earth doesn’t look round to me.” To argue that there is no longer social injustice and have validity, one must be aware of existing knowledge in the field. From an academic perspective, knowledge claims must stand up to scrutiny by peers who are special- ists in the subject. This process is called peer review, and it is the cornerstone of how academic knowledge is evaluated. Claims about social injustice made within the academic community have undergone peer review. Although there are debates within this community, peer scholars have found the arguments to be relevant and worthy of engagement.

In this book, we ask our readers to grapple with the claims we present, rather than strive to maintain the opinions they already hold. We use the term grappling to capture the process of critical thinking: reflecting upon new information, seek- ing deeper clarity and understanding, and practicing articulating and discussing an issue. Grappling requires engagement with intellectual humility, curiosity, and generosity; grappling is not dependent on agreement. The goal of education is to expand one’s knowledge base and critical thinking skills, rather than protect our preexisting opinions. Of course we have a right to our opinions, but there will be no personal or intellectual growth for us if we are not willing to think critically about them. We urge our readers to remember this as we proceed to raise some challenging and politically charged issues.

Discussion Questions

1. Explain in your own words the difference between “critical thinking” and “opinion.”

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34 Is Everyone Really Equal?

2. What does it mean to say that knowledge is socially constructed? Give some examples.

3. What do the authors mean when they say that “what you know” is connected to “who you are”?

Extension Activity

1. Choose a newspaper article, textbook passage, novel, film, commercial, or other text. Identify which of the various forms of knowledge (personal/cul- tural knowledge, popular knowledge, school knowledge, mainstream academic knowledge, transformative knowledge) manifest in the text, and describe how.

2. a. Read Chapter 1 of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States: 1492–Present (New York: HarperCollins, 1980) or Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson’s Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (Milwaukee, WI: Re- thinking Schools, 1998).

b. Watch the film Pocahontas (Walt Disney Pictures; Burbank, CA: Walt Dis- ney Home Entertainment, 1997). Using the text and the film as a window into knowledge construction, reflect upon the following questions:

» Which story of first contact is most often taught in schools? How is it taught?

» Whose interests are served by “school knowledge” about first con- tact?

» How do these texts illustrate the concept of knowledge as socially constructed?

Patterns to practice seeing:

1. What kinds of knowledge are presented as fact and which are presented as opinion? How is this difference conveyed to us?

2. How do families tend to feel about what school their children go to? What are all of the different processes and options related to school choice? What does this say about the idea that all knowledge is equal?

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