Group Progression in Society Essay

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Group Progression in Society

The pressures of society force humans into groups, whether to change something, unite, or to feel a sense of belonging. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to find what groups you fit into and these groups can change as you transform into a more critical thinker. Studs Terkel tells the story a of Ku Klux Klan member turned school board activist, C.P. Ellis, in his essay, “C.P. Ellis.” Ellis’ struggles and realizations prove what critical thinking and self-examination can do. Mike Rose’s essay, “I Just Wanna Be Average” also displays the importance of growing through groups and how changing mental habits can help transform one into a more efficient critical thinker, therefore allowing one to surpass the cultural myths placed upon them. Gary Colombo enlightens readers by defining and giving advice on how to transform oneself into a critical thinker in his essay, “Thinking Critically, Challenging Cultural Myths”. Colombo argues that by thinking critically and challenging the norms of our society we can fight to be the people we truly want to be. Humans form into groups subconsciously as well as consciously.

Consequently, these groups we cast ourselves into are the very things that can hold us back from becoming true individuals. By reexamining old ways and becoming active critical thinkers, members of society can participate in groups in a manner which will allow them to grow intellectually and outlast the cultural myths that is society has placed upon them. Groups have a large impact on society since they are constructed to allow humans to do more than they would be able to as mere individuals. However, groups can often hinder the thought process of individuals and cause people to settle for less than what they are actually capable of. The “cultural myth” of belonging in society can cause individuals to become immersed in a group’s ideas wholly instead of blending them with their own beliefs. Ellis recalls when his former Klansmen called him after he started working for integration on the school board with Ann Atwater, African American women.

“My old friends would call me at night: ‘C.P, what the hell is wrong with you? You’re selling out the white race.’ This begin to make me have guilt feelin’s. [. . .] My mind was beginnin’ to open up. I was beginnin’ to see what was right and what was wrong. I don’t want the kids to fight forever” (405). Had Ellis remained a narrow-minded member of the Ku Klux Klan his judgments and perceptions would have continued to be overly influenced by the Klan’s extremist beliefs. By expanding his mind Ellis was able to work on non-Klan related issues and overcome his racist tendencies thus transforming him into a more independent thinker.

Critical thinking such as this is essential in being able to think independently opposed to being over powered by a group’s point of view and opinions. Colombo defines critical thinking as “a matter of dialogue and debate – discovering relationships between apparently unrelated ideas, finding parallels between your own experiences and the ideas you read about, exploring points of agreement and conflict between yourself and other people” (9). By applying these skills Ellis talked through the issues on the school board and reexamined his relationship with Ms. Atwater which in turn matured his critical thinking abilities. These critical mental skills will enable one to choose which groups they truly belong to instead of merely becoming a drone in order to fulfill their own senses of belonging.

However, not all group enrollment and involvement is by the choice of its members. Some are pieced together by members whose superiors have placed them in said groups. In some cases, placement into these groups can impede on the development of critical and independent thinking. Mike Rose’s unjust placement into his school’s vocational is a prime example of this forced-group hindrance. Colombo states that “[c]ultural myths become so closely identified with our personal beliefs that rereading them means rereading ourselves, rethinking the way we see the world. Questioning long-held assumptions can be an exhilarating experience, but it can be distressing too” (8).

By rethinking the groups’ society places us in we can gain a better understanding of ourselves as well as a better perception of the cultural myths that hold our true identities down. Rose tells about that the defenses mechanisms that he and his classmates built up to deal with the below average, self-image that the vocational track gave them, “[they] to twist the knife in [their] own grey matter” in order to stand up to the mental wear-and-tear of the vocational schooling process. Rose delves further into this process: You’ll have to shut down, have to reject intellectual stimuli or diffuse them with sarcasm, have to cultivate stupidity, have to convert boredom from a malady into a way of confronting the world. Keep your vocabulary simple, act stoned when you’re not or act more stoned than you are, flaunt ignorance, materialize your dreams. It is a powerful and effective defense – it neutralizes the insult and the frustration of being a vocational kid. (Rose 162)

Defenses like the ones used in Rose’s essay cause individuals to do the bare minimum and do not allow individuals to grow within the group but rather the opposite; it stunts their identities and makes them complacent rather than questioning the world around causing a lack of internal expansion.

By questioning the cultural myths of society and expanding the mind to think more critically individuals will be able to broaden their intellectual and social horizons. Ellis reminiscences at the end of the essay about his person growth by saying that “our troubles are over with. They say the older you get, the harder it is for you to change. Since I changed, I’ve set down and listened to tapes of Martin Luther King. I listen to it and tears come to my eyes’ cause I know what he’s sayin’ now. I know what’s happenin’” (408). By progressing through groups (the Ku Klux Klan and school board) Ellis was able to become a critical thinker and overcome the many cultural myths of his life.

Similarly, Rose progressed to become a critical thinker. By going from vocational track to college prep, Rose was forced to reassess his self in order to become the type of student and person he wanted to be upon entering college prep. “I’d been mediocre for too long and enjoyed a public redefinition. And I suppose the inner workings of my mind, such as they were, had been private for too long” says Rose on regards to his switch and achievement in college prep (166). Both of these experiences show that by reevaluating the cultural myths in society and growing through different groups individuals can become critical thinkers and redefine themselves as the people they want to be.

Society is filled with cultural myths and pre-assigned groups for its members. Only by overcoming these myths and growing intellectually can individuals become who they want to be rather than what society decrees them to. The experiences of Rose and Terkel show what critical thinking and group progression can do to one’s true self. Since Colombo defines critical thinking in his essay, the two experiences of Rose and Terkel allow the idea to be brought to life and put his work into context. Upon building critical thinking skills and experiencing group progression throughout life, individuals will be able to gain a multifaceted understanding of their true selves. This understanding will allow individuals to delve into the critical thinking and lead them to constantly challenge the world and groups around them.

Works Citied
Colombo, Gary. “Thinking Challenging Critically, Cultural Myths.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Eds. Colombo, G., Cullen, R., and Lisle, B. Boston: Bedfortd/St. Martin’s, 2010. 1-15. Print. Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Eds. Colombo, G., Cullen, R., and Lisle, B. Boston: Bedfortd/St. Martin’s, 2010. 157-169. Print. Terkel, Studs. ““C.P. Ellis.”.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Eds. Colombo, G., Cullen, R., and Lisle, B. Boston: Bedfortd/St. Martin’s,

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