The Critical Need for Kids to Think Critically
Sam honestly believes all the claims he reads in his junk email. He wants to respond and send money right away to some very suspect source claiming to help starving invertebrates in a country he has never heard of.
Dan follows the lead of other kids, even when they are leading him astray. That got him started on smoking.
Dina has a hard time understanding other peoples' ways of seeing things. She is intolerant of anyone who disagrees with her on any issue.
Yvonne takes everything at face value. So she uncritically agrees with any authority figure's point of view on any matter. That's what she did when her social studies class was discussing America's controversial role in toppling oppressive governments around the world; she blindly accepted her teacher's stance.
Sam, Dan, Dina, and Yvonne are all kids who have not understood and embraced a process called critical thinking.
Critical thinking helps students evaluate the validity of ideas as they acquire the ability to assess the world around them. Emerging as critical thinkers, kids can judge ideas, claims, issues, and products. They can size up points of view. Most important, their critical thinking can be a huge asset in their own day-to-day decision-making. Their evaluations enable children to pass beyond sheer naivetè, to see things as they really are rather than as they seem or are designed to seem. In part it's the ability to distinguish between appearances and reality. Such insight turns out to be a powerful survival tool, an important instrument of success throughout life. And it needs to be assembled during childhood and the adolescent years.
Educators and parents alike can help children hone their critical thinking. Television commercials, newspaper editorials, political speeches, even musical offerings, short stories, and novels are all fair targets for critical scrutiny. Children have to be taught to slow down and ask themselves the right questions in exercising this mode of thinking. The following table, from an 11th grade class assignment, depicts a sequence of steps that can guide the process:
|Step 1:||What's the claim or statement to be evaluated?|
|Explanation:||Stating very clearly what idea(s), claim(s), products(s) you will be evaluating|
|Example:||A politician claimed, "If I am re-elected, I will lower taxes and offer more services to the poor and pay for universal health care."|
|Step 2:||What are my beliefs or feelings about this?|
|Explanation:||Identifying your own biases, i.e., how you feel about what's claimed|
|Example:||I feel as if this is a good idea; I'm passionately for it - plus he's in the same political party as I. I trust him.|
|Step 3:||What real reasons does this person have for saying/writing this?|
|Explanation:||Uncovering underlying (possibly ulterior) motives of the person whose work or ideas are being evaluated|
|Example:||He'll say anything to get elected! And he's such a good speaker; he can make you believe anything.|
|Step 4:||What would be the consequences of agreeing with/accepting such ideas or claims?|
|Explanation:||Predicting the implications for action if the ideas were accepted/implemented|
|Example:||He would be elected, taxes would go down, and our government would have a bigger deficit.|
|Step 5:||How accurate is this person's information?|
|Explanation:||Determining whether the facts are there to support the claim or the idea or justify the product's worthiness|
|Example:||His numbers on tax reduction and the cost of health care are questionable.|
|Step 6:||What facts can I find to help me evaluate this?|
|Explanation:||Doing the needed research to support, modify, or refute the claim or idea|
|Example:||Last year's budget contradicts what he is claiming about tax revenue.|
|Step 7:||What is the evidence for and against the claim/statement/product?|
|Explanation:||Making lists of the pros and cons of that which is being evaluated|
|Example:||Pros: speaks from experience, is consistent in his views|
|Cons: has failed a tax reform in past, legislature won't pass his bills|
|Step 8:||What's my assessment?|
|Explanation:||Coming to a conclusion|
|Example:||He's a good person, but very political. You can't believe he'll do what he says he will do.|
|Step 9:||How do I communicate my assessment?|
|Explanation:||Reporting on your critical thinking|
|Example:||Using steps 1 to 8, write a statement or making an oral presentation of your assessment.|
|Step 10:||How/when will I find out if my assessment was correct?|
|Explanation:||Evaluating your evaluation|
|Example:||If he is elected, following up on the campaign promises may tell you if you were right.|
Reprinted with the permission of All Kinds of Minds © 1999-2008 All Kinds of Minds
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