Teacher famous for critical thinking video belatedly fired by school

Teacher famous for critical thinking video belatedly fired by school

Warren Smith

Teacher famous for critical thinking video belatedly fired by school

A high school teacher has been fired from his job months after he encouraged a student to think for himself and examine his assumptions, but he did not go away without calling his firing unfair.

Warren Smith’s video-recorded conversation with a unnamed student went viral back in February – it has since hit 45 million views on X – thanks to the reach of social media and to the topic, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. The five-minute conversation has also been praised for what some call a “master class” in Socratic critical thinking, especially on the hot-button issue of “transphobia.”

In the video, which Smith posted on his YouTube channel, the student criticizes the famous author for her “bigoted opinions” about transgender women --- men --- competing in female-only sports. Reacting to that accusation, the soft-spoken teacher gently challenged the unseen student to participate in a “thought experiment,” beginning with defining what “bigoted opinion” means.

Laurie Higgins, a culture and education writer at Breakthrough Ideas, tells AFN the teacher challenged the student with questions about his assumptions.

“And by the end of the questioning,” she says, “the student said he feels like his question was idiotic."

Challenged by Smith to give an example of Rowling’s transphobia, the student reads a Twitter post from Rowling (pictured at left) from 2019. She suggests transgender people can dress how they like, and call themselves whatever they like, but she would not stay quiet when women are punished for believing in biological sex.

“Do you find that transphobic yourself?” Smith asks the student.

“I myself don’t really have an opinion,” the student amazingly replies. “I’m just going with what a lot of other people have said.”

Smith’s video went viral. It was viewed 40 million times on X, formerly Twitter, and was retweeted by Elon Musk.  

“Critical thinking should be the first thing taught to kids,” Musk commented.

The teacher also sat for several interviews after the video went viral, making him more popular. 

On May 13, a shocked Smith posted a video on X to announce he had been abruptly fired by the high school after four years of teaching there. Recalling the reason for the termination, the fired teacher said he was told there was concern he would “divulge” information online. He told viewers he had sat never “crossed the parameters” the school and its attorneys had given him about his YouTube channel.

 “I even praised you for and thanked you,” Smith told an unnamed school official, “for making that so clear objectively, recognizing what the rules were. There were no rules broken.”

The fired teacher said he realizes now, looking back, the school would have probably fired him back in February but Musk retweeting the X video made it more difficult to fire him at the time.

Higgins, Laurie (Illinois Family Institute) Higgins

The video concludes with an written update: Smith was offered "additional payment" from the school to agree to never speak about his firing. "I declined," he writes. 

By turning down the money to be quiet, Higgins says, Smith proved he is a man of integrity. 

"We need more people coming out," she says, "and talking about what they know firsthand that's going on in the public school classrooms."