persons, places and things: Analyzing stereotypes

By Barb Arland-Fye

By Barb Arland-Fye

A magazine’s cover stood out from among the other mail I received one day last week. It features a man wearing a white shirt and a white dunce cap with a capital “D” printed in green. The man has buck teeth, an extremely broad nose and a sad, dumb look on his face. A button on his shirt reads “Huh?”

Accompanying the image is a plug for a story about “Critical Thinking Skills, What They Are And Why You Need to Get Them (Before It’s Too Late).”

The message that the photo illustration conveys to me may not be what the editor of “Envoy” magazine intended, but it seems to belittle people with intellectual disabilities.

My husband, Steve, and others I showed the cover to thought it was offensive — or at least insensitive  — and not just because a member of our family has an intellectual challenge.


“They could have pictured Einstein wearing a dunce cap,” Steve said. “Why make a cover story that illustrates someone you are mocking instead of helping? It would have been better to picture Einstein because that would have gotten readers’ attention in a fairer way than playing to stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities.”

I read the article on critical thinking skills to see whether the photo illustration was relevant to the content.

What I learned was valuable information about the process of critical thinking — from a Christian perspective — which I could use to make a logical criticism of the photo illustration.

The author first identified the things that can go wrong with the structuring of our thoughts: ambiguous terms, false premises or illogical fallacies.

I contend that the photo illustration falls under two categories: false premises and illogical fallacies.

The article had nothing to do with intellectual shortcomings, so much as a lazy attitude toward ordering our thoughts in a way that leads us to the truth.

The author stresses the importance of thinking through a thought thoroughly, “to do as good a job and build as sound a building with thoughts as we do with bricks or steel.”

I wish the editor would have thought with such deliberation in determining how to illustrate this article on the magazine’s cover.

Maybe he didn’t read the article carefully enough. “The judgment of critical reason consists of three logical questions: (1) What does it mean? (2) Is it true? (3) What is the evidence or proof?

There certainly is no proof that people with intellectual disabilities are clueless. They understand when people don’t accept them for who they are.

The author says we pervert in wrong thinking “the mirrored powers of God’s own mind that He gave to us in giving us His own image.”

Indeed, we do. It’s easy enough to slip into that mentality that we are better than another person because of our superior intellectual abilities.

Another point the author makes is that we should never think illogically, except when we are deliberately making a joke, laughing at laughable follies. To the editor, I would ask: What’s so laughable about portraying someone as an idiot in a dunce cap?

The article on critical thinking was helpful in many ways, one of which is the framework it provided for analyzing the hurtfulness of wrong-headed stereotypes.  

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