Friday, September 21, 2007

A Plea For Critical Thinking

As an addendum from my previous post...

"Common sense is not so common"- Voltaire

It wasn't until I entered grad school that I was taught these nuggets of truth.

  • Critical thinking requires a skeptical eye that accepts no truth as Gospel and attempts to hone one's own unique, independent viewpoint.
  • Critical thinking takes into perspective that there are two (and often more) sides to any issue. Consider both, contemplate both, and seek the inherent truth. Strip away spin, conjecture, smoke and mirrors, filters, and personal prejudice.
  • Know that truth is neither the domain of liberal, nor of conservative points of view. The truth supersedes political allegiance.
  • Don't drink the kool-aid. Don't take anything on faith unless you've carefully weighed every argument, especially your own.
  • Contemplate the argument of your opposition. Don't just dismiss it as contrary to your own and in the process fall prey to a condition know as tunnel vision. Don't walk through life with blinders on.
  • Being skeptical and having a critical eye is not the same thing as being a pessimist.
  • Understand that pessimism and optimism both are two sides of the same coin; furthermore, understand that both are merely different ways to perceive the same reality.
  • Flattery will get you everywhere, but only the the truth will set you free.
I think critical thinking ought to be taught at a very young age in schools. This sort of wisdom, it has been argued, used to be imparted by parents to their children around the dinner table.
I would even go a step forward and argue that this sort of wisdom has never found popular audience at any time in history. Nevertheless, a new generation has grown up bereft of these life lessons. If parents are either unwilling or incapable of doing so, then I think schools need to inform pupils of these very important facts of life.

Moreover, I have long been critical of an education system that doesn't do an adequate job of explaining WHY learning is so important. Oh, it's done an admirable job of rote memorization, teaching to the test, and spilling out a bunch of disconnected facts, dates, and assorted jargon. However, it's never effectively sought to find a sense of commonality between subjects and disciplines. That's doing a grave disservice to the average student, who isn't perceptive enough to connect the dots by himself or herself. It's unfair that only the A students are capable of seeing the big picture, while most other students end up bored and confused.

Furthermore, many young adults leave college with lots of information, but not much wisdom or practical know-how. They can do calculus admirably, but don't know how to balance a checkbook. They can quote passages of philosophy, but aren't sure how to apply those same principles to their own lives. They have learned what has come before them, but don't realize that those who ignore the past are often doomed to repeat the same mistakes. They have an good grasp of English grammar, but don't know how to write a successful resume.

To backtrack a bit--this blog has a primarily liberal conceit but I think it needs to be said that I have gone out on a limb and made some fairly conservative statements. While I do identify as a Progressive, I don't buy into every tenant of the Democratic party nor do I necessarily agree with all so-called liberal issues. I know that it's very easy and tempting to want see the world in monochrome but it greatly benefits a person to be of an analytical bent. The problem is that we give critical thinking lip service but we don't actively foster it amongst ourselves. Truth is not always easy, nor comfortable, but it is the only way to be a well-rounded citizen.

I feel as though it is the duty of all people to look beyond simplistic, knee-jerk, pat answers for complex problems.

We often times can't understand why so many people fall prey to scare tactics and fear. The simple reality is that without a sense of critical thinking, people trust blindly and do not question the one-sided views with which they've been raised. Some may say that critical thought is the domain of the intellectuals and the fortunate, but I disagree. I propose that we teach our children how to think for themselves. This by no means indicates that I'm proposing we encourage rebellion or the destruction of society itself, as some might fear, but rather that we show the world as it is: a complex place which has few easy answers.


Fran said...

Extremely well put.

Robin Edgar said...

"I feel as though it is the duty of all people to look beyond simplistic, knee-jerk, pat answers for complex problems."

Amen to that Brother! ;-)

Evil Spock said...

You and your critical thinking! How can Evil Spock mind control the masses, if everyone is thinking for themselves?!? There is only three sides to an argument: the right way, the wrong way, and the Evil Spock way. The wrong way and the Evil Spock way are similar, but the Evil Spock way is 50% faster!

Anonymous said...

I applaud your plea for critical thinking.

Ultimately, an effective critical thinking process should enable someone to get to the heart of an issue--the real concern behind a conflict, the root cause of a problem, etc. so action can be taken to resolve the issue. Constructive critical thinking should lead to positive action aimed at improving the situation or concern. If critical thinking only leads to becoming critical, or just more thinking--it becomes a frustrating exercise in futility or a comfortable excuse for inactivity.