Critical Thinking, A Lost Art?

If democratic practices are to survive, critical thinking skills are a necessity.  People say they want a voice. Then they need to know how to question, analyze and think critically.  Facts must be made available, and citizens must have access to opposing viewpoints.  We all must have a voice, all of us.

History tells us that people want to be heard, right?  Remember what you were taught about the American Revolution?  I learned that the colonists wanted a voice in government.  That was the main reason colonists took up arms, to fight for their rights, wasn’t it?  Interesting fact, only about 1/3 of the colonists wanted to break away, another 1/3 were Loyalists and the final 1/3 weren’t speaking out one way or the other.  Hmm…sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  People say they want a voice but not everyone shows up at the polls.  Instead, it’s usually a smaller group of outspoken people who are passionate about a subject.  They’re the ones who cause big changes when election time rolls around.

So why don’t more people vote?  Is it because they don’t care?  Is it because they don’t think their vote will make a difference?  Or is it because we don’t teach our children critical thinking skills?  I’m not saying that as a jab against specific teachers or school districts.  I am a teacher, and I know there are many who are teaching students to think critically, but let’s pause and look at history again.

The United States is built upon Christian ideals and a school model that comes from the Industrial Revolution.  Both work against critical thinking.  The most traditional of churches teach their members to read the Bible and to follow the word of the Bible, not to question it or think critically about the world.  The emphasis is on faith which really means believing without proof.  Again, not all churches and not all clergy do that.  Many alert their congregations to what is going on in the world today and encourage them to make positive changes in our world.  Now take a moment to think about schools.  The traditional school model emphasizes the teacher as the expert whose job is to impart knowledge to the students.  Many schools today are shifting to a “guide on the side” viewpoint whereby the teacher encourages and guides the students while still teaching them basic skills so that they can navigate through their own learning.

Whose job is it to teach critical thinking skills?  I credit my parents and some of my teachers, and I’m carrying on the tradition by teaching my own daughter and my students to think critically and to problem solve.  Others are doing the same.  Bringing history to life is one way.  (Check out this fun video about Suffrage by Soomo Publishing.)  Bringing in news articles to analyze and discuss is another.  (The recent City Pages April Fool’s article about a new breed of woolly rat that has been discovered on the Wisconsin River was an excellent teaching tool.)  Teaching research skills is yet another.  The list goes on and on.

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S.L. Wallace is a natural born storyteller. Daydreams, sweet dreams, nightmares...they all come from the same place, the world of imagination!

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