As you probably know by now, I declared 2018 the year of #Let’sThinkAbout critical thinking on my blog and wrote several posts on this theme. Today, we’ll do a quick summary of this year’s posts and what we can learn from them.
In January’s post, I started by defining critical thinking: The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as “the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.” Oxford Living Dictionaries defines it as “The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.” So I would expect we would need to gather information from more than one source, and try to look at things without letting your fears or other feelings get in the way.
In other posts, I highlighted several tools we can use to evaluate sources, including:
Good debaters can see both sides of an issue and analyze details to see how logical and persuasive they are. They learn to write clearly, create plans to solve problems, and speak in public. All these skills are helpful in and outside of school to create civil discourse. The book Why Debate: Transformed by Academic Discourse (http://a.co/gBa6qOW) explains this brilliantly. In this collection of essays, edited by Shawn Briscoe, eighteen authors describe different aspects and advantages of academic debate for students and the world around them. (Disclosure: I know Briscoe and many of the contributors, including my daughter.)
I also discussed how critical thinking is used (or not) in campaigns:
Many campaigns rely on fear and anxiety to drive people to action. Neil Strauss explains the science behind this technique and why it works so well in the October 20, 2016 Rolling Stone (https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/why-were-living-in-the-age-of-fear-w443554). I recommend you read his entire “The Age of Fear” article to learn more about how it happens. Strauss writes, “There are two particular ways, among many, in which living with these anxieties month after month can change your brain.” See the article for his explanation. Thank goodness Strauss also has some good news: “But if our anxieties and fears can be stoked by certain techniques, why can’t they also be quieted by other techniques?” He lists several in his article. One way to counteract this is to interact with a diverse group of people. Another is to believe you have a voice and can influence your environment. A third is to accept ambiguity and change. The last is to remind people of compassion and shared values, instead of differences. (See Strauss’ article for more explanation.)
In another post, I looked at critical thinking and reading:
I read a great article on Lit Hub by Maryanne Wolf that discusses how reading affects the brain. The whole article is fascinating, and I encourage you to read it at https://lithub.com/what-does-immersing-yourself-in-a-book-do-to-your-brain/. But for our purpose today, I’ll summarize some of what Wolf has to say about the study of reading and empathy. As Wolf states, “Perspective-taking not only connects our sense of empathy with what we have just read but also expands our internalized knowledge of the world.” She goes on to give examples of people who have done this and how it feels like having real friends in books we read. In this way, reading novels helps our critical thinking and ability to live with each other. We can’t afford to lose this if we are to hang on to the qualities we cherish in our civilization. As Wolf puts it, “The quality of our thought depends on the background knowledge and feelings we each bring to bear.” As a reader and writer, of course, this is close to my heart. If we do nothing else about this topic, I hope we continue to read and encourage others to do so.
I hope you’ve found this theme to be helpful throughout the year, and find one area that you want to pursue in the future. Maybe you’ll check sources when you read news, or consider critical thinking when you hear a campaign ad, or read more. Whatever you do, #Let’sThinkAbout it together! 🙂