How can we ensure that we notice that we needed to probe assumptions we didn’t notice ourselves making?

I have long had a sense that affirmative action (such as it is/was) has been interpreted so that every white person who missed out on a job knew that they would have got the job if a black person hadn’t been favored (said without any sense of the arithmetic problems involved).

In this climate, the Supreme court is about to rule on the University of Texas’s use of race as one factor among many when considering who to accept among those who did not make the cut via the “top 10% of high school graduates in Texas” criterion.  It turns out that if the person in whose name the case is being presented, Abigail Fisher, had “received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor,” she would still have missed out according to UT university officials (Nikole Hannah-Jones in ProPublica).

Let me confess, however, that I had assumed that anti-affirmative-action litigators had found a white person for the case who had grades and a profile that would have gotten her in if race had not added points to an applicant of color.  This is certainly what the media coverage suggested until Hannah-Jones’s article.  This leads me to the critical thinking question: How can we ensure that we notice that we needed to probe assumptions we didn’t notice ourselves making?


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

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