The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s 2017 Maps of Meaning lecture. In this part, he speaks on the difficulty of teaching writing, the reason for writing, and what writing can achieve.
Start time: 2:17:35
The best way to teach people critical thinking is to teach them to write. It is very hard to teach people to write because it is unbelievably time intensive. Marking a good essay is really easy: check, A. You did everything right. Marking a bad essay? Oh my. The words are wrong, the phrases are wrong, the sentences are wrong, they’re not ordered right in the paragraphs, the paragraphs are not coherent, and the whole thing makes no sense. So trying to tell the person what they did wrong? Well, you did everything wrong. Everything about this essay is wrong. That is not helpful either. You have to find the few little things they did half right, and you have to teach them what they did wrong. It is really expensive. The best thing you can do is teach people to write, because there is no difference between that and thinking.
One of the things that blows me away about universities is that no one ever tells students why they should write something. “Well, you have to do this assignment. Why are you writing? You need the grade.” No, you need to learn to think. Because thinking makes you act effectively in the world. Thinking makes you win the battles you undertake, and those could be battles for good things. If you can think and speak and write, you are absolutely deadly. Nothing can get in your way. That is why you learn to write. I cannot believe that people aren’t just told that. It is the most powerful weapon you could possibly provide someone with.
I know lots of people who have been staggeringly successful. I’ve watched them throughout my life, and you do not want to have an argument with those people. They will just slash you into pieces, and not in a malevolent way. If you are going to make your point and they are going to make their point, you better have your points organized because otherwise you are going to look like and be an absolute idiot. You are not going to get anywhere. If you can formulate your arguments coherently and make a presentation, if you can speak to people, if you can lay out a proposal, people give you money, they give you opportunities, and you have influence.
That is what you are at university for. That is what you do: Teach people to be articulate because that is the most dangerous thing you can possibly be, and it is motivating if people know that. “Why are you learning to write?” Here is your sword, here is your M16, here is your bullet proof vest. You learn how to use them. It is an endless mystery to me why that is not made self-evident. That is the sort of thing that can drive you mad trying to sort out. It is like there is a conspiracy to bring people into the education system and make them weaker. I guess that keeps the competition down. Maybe that is one way of thinking about it. If your students are stupid, they are not going to challenge you.
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Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.