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Critical thinking begins at home


Two weeks ago Ann Marie Murray wrote a letter to the Herald regarding her dismay in encountering a paucity of critical thinking about a national demonstation by her grandson.
Murray hit the nail on the proverbial head in identifying another longstanding national critical issue. “Fake news,” disinformation, political weaponizing of nonpolitical issues, dumbed-down reporting and the insidious addiction to social media as one’s major source of information in a rapidly changing world, which makes “critical thinking” all the more critical for our democracy.
In the past, the not-so-subtle effect of advertising was the prime target of a movement to teach “media literacy” in the schools. How many schools have heard, let alone heeded that voice?
Many of the better public schools are touting their emphasis on teaching critical thinking skills. Research indicates that much of it is a waste of time because of the ways they are “taught.” Critical thinking should not be taught as a subject – it is a quality of thinking that should be infused in almost every subject. But that is not how most teachers were taught. The same holds true for most of the administrators who supervise and evaluate those teachers.
Teaching critical thinking in public schools is frequently in hostile territory. Most bureaucracies tend to react to critical thinking as if they are being confronted by evil intent. Critical thinking involves raising sometimes uncomfortable questions, making challenging assumptions to conventional wisdom, questioning authority, etc. These are not core values in most public school education. On the contrary.

Change is not impossible, but difficult. Some countries, e.g. Canada and Finland, seem way ahead, but certain cultural values probably play a large part. Here, many (but not enough) colleges and graduate professional schools (perhaps law and the sciences) do teach critical thinking most effectively.
Clearly, that is not enough. Our present level of discourse on the streets, debate in Congress, or avoidance of certain topics at the Thanksgiving table suggest otherwise. Ideally, it must start at the knees of parents and carry through one’s formal education.
Thank you, Ann Marie Murray, for raising the question anew. The times, present and future, demand it.
Charlie Huchet, New Hope