I had originally wanted to write about this some weeks ago, but I got side tracked with other posts and homework. Now I'm circling back to it because I still think it's an important discussion. I follow some people that I find rather interesting on my Facebook page; Neil Degrasse Tyson, Dr. Michio Kaku, and others. Dr. Kaku posted a link with a comment advocating that we should stop trying to teach critical thinking in our education system. At first I was taken aback. I respect Dr. Kaku a great deal, and I've long held the belief that we need to teach more critical thinking in the classroom. How could he say such a thing?
Then I read the article and I understood and I agree with him.
The main point that the article was making is that in too many classrooms across the country the concept of "critical thinking" is often mislabled and passed along under as a guise for political or policy reform. Teachers bemoan certain policies or political views that they dislike and present their side of the argument to the children under the guise of "Critical Thinking". Some Science teachers will publicly lament that they are not allowed to teach their religious beliefs about creation to the students but are instead forced to teach concepts such as the Big Bang and Evolution. This is not critical thinking.
Far too often many of us are victims of our own minds, trapped inside of our firmly held beliefs and ideologies that we succumb to psychological traps like confirmation bias. We're all guilty of it from time to time, but some of us are worse than others. I pride myself on being a truly critical thinker. I enjoy debating with people who have a different opinion than I do, not because I want be right and win the debate, but because that I'm hoping beyond hope that they can articulate why they believe what they believe with logic and reason and possibly support their position with facts. This forces me to re-evaluate what I believe; do I believe what I believe because it's the right thing to believe, or do I believe if because someone once told me that I should and I've never questioned it? Many of my friends have acknowledged this trait about me and some of them have managed to convince me to change my mind on certain topics. I have many friends whom I respect a great deal and yet we have vastly different opinions on certain topics. That's perfectly okay.
But sadly that's not commonplace. And it's not what happens in many classrooms either. If I am not capable of actually critically analyzing a situation, how can I teach others to be that way as well? If I physically don't understand the concept of critical thinking or I refuse to participate in it, how can I realistically expect others to do it?
The one thing that is clear from this article is that the concept of critical thinking in a classroom setting needs to come from a complete revamp and overhaul of the curriculum and instructional methodology that is being used in schools today. I promote critical thinking in my son all of the time. He will often ask me: "Dad, how does X work?" Instead of just telling him what I want him to know or to think, I ask him what does he know about X, and based on what he knows about X, what does he think? How does he think X works? And, where can he learn more about X? This is a process that I will always continue. I will never presume to push my religious or political beliefs onto my children. If they have a different view than I do, great. If not, that's great too. Either way they should arrive at their own conclusions in their own way.
When it comes to conversations of "critical thinking" that take place in most places today I'm reminded of Inigo Montaya again..."you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means". And since any explanation I might give would invariably miss some of the finer points of this conversation, I encourage you to read the article in the link below.