I already know, based on the title of this post (or perhaps in spite of it), that I lost some readers on the assumption that this topic is boring or tired, and that's okay. But, what's paramount is that this topic is important. As a teacher--and like many before me, and many to come--I spend a great deal of time and effort trying to get my students to think critically. For years I heard my own teachers telling me to "think critically", I had professors teaching me about critical thinking in the new Common Core curriculum, and I felt the educational vibe shift away from teaching at students to collaborative teaching with students; all of which hinges upon the principle of self-directed critical thinking abilities.
If you are like most students, or people in general, you may not be entirely sure of exactly what critical thinking even means in a technical sense. It's one of those educational terms, like pedagogy, curriculum, IEP, etc... that gets thrown around a lot with the assumption that its meaning is going to be understood, well we all know what they say about assuming things... Critical thinking, essentially, is this: the ability to think and formulate answers, opinions, ideas, etc... for oneself. It is a very different approach to education than the "one right answer" model that was so prevalent for so many years. To think critically about something, anything, requires expanding one's thoughts and intertwining one's knowledge from other subjects (this is often referred to as "interdisciplinary" study or thought). What is so valuable about this is it is not solely academic, in fact, there is likely to be far more critical thinking required in your work and life decisions than you may even realize. For example, maybe you are going to vote (Go Vote!) and you are unsure of which candidate to vote for. You can defer to your chosen political party and just roll the dice that he/she is the best choice OR you can look at each candidates’ qualifications and beliefs, and think about how they align with your own. Maybe you are Republican, but the Republican candidate is against many of your personal beliefs, are they really your best choice for someone to represent you in government then? Probably not. The ability to think critically about these decisions are what will distinguish this generation, and generations to come, from those before us. It is essentially, our ability to question without hesitation anything that does not make sense to us.
When it comes to teaching students to think critically, I feel the most effective method is conversation. I am lucky in that I work with a small group of students and I have the luxury to get to know them and to have conversations with each of them regularly. I know in many public school systems this is a rarity, and sometimes is never even a viable option; this of course needs to change if we hope to improve education at a national, and even global, level. However, an educational revolution aside, there are ways to begin infusing critical thinking exercises now! For instance, when students have a history project, essay, or other project that is being assigned, take a moment to talk as a group about the topic at hand. Why is it important? How has it affected life as we know it? Having these sort of group conversations are often the beginning of critical thought. As an English teacher, I often veer into these sort of discussions in class.
Even if you are not an educator, you can still think critically in your own life and encourage others to do so. Think about the topics you frequently discuss with your peers, and ways in which you might benefit from thinking about them differently. If you have children, talk to them like people (not like kids) and strive to understand their thoughts about certain issues, and encourage them to look at said issues from other angles. It's these lessons that will stick with them through school into adulthood. Probably the greatest gain that comes from critical thinking, beyond intellect and open mindedness, is empathy. When you can look at any topic or issue from another point of view, and understand that side (whether you personally agree with it or not) then your own empathy (ability to see and understand another person's point of view, struggles, beliefs, etc...) is growing. And it's empathy that makes us compassionate, understanding human beings who can not only talk to one another, but can understand and offer help and support to one another, despite our differences.
BA in Liberal Studies, with an emphasis on literature and composition. CA Single Subject credentialed English Teacher. I'm a huge supporter of the written word, especially when we use it to inspire change! Do what you love, love what you do.