Is your child being taught to think critically? Why is critical thinking so important and what is critical thinking?
A SIMPLE EXAMPLE
When the holiday season rolls around, most kids are excited by the thought of Santa Claus bringing gifts. They’ve heard that Santa and his reindeer land on the roof and that Santa then slides down the chimney with his sack of presents. The younger the child, the more easily she accepts this story at face value. Then, as she gets older, she begins to think critically about it. She makes certain observations. She notices in pictures of Santa that his tummy is large. She wonders how he fits into the chimney, especially with his full sack.
She might also wonder how his reindeer fly through the air without wings. And why does Santa need a sleigh if he’s not going over snow? Maybe she sees different Santas in different stores and this may lead her to ask, “How many Santas are there and how come they all look and sound a little different?” Asking herself or her parent these questions, before long she decides that there’s something wrong with the story she’s been told. She realizes that it isn’t true. She has applied critical thinking to understand why what she sees and what she’s been told don’t agree and she’s arrived at an answer: Santa Claus is a story, make believe.
Critical thinking is thinking that doesn’t take what we’re told for granted. It doesn’t allow us to accept an answer just because someone tells us to. “Critical thinking tries to get below the surface of something: questioning, probing, analysing, exploring….Critical thinking requires detective like skills…to take in all the angles and weigh up evidence on every side.” (www.qmu.ac.uk/els/docs/Criticalthinking.PDF).
Critical thinking is work. It’s much easier to accept answers we’re given. Nowadays especially, so much information is available through technology that our kids are used to quick and easy answers. The result is that they don’t take the time and trouble to think and to process information – to think critically. They need to be encouraged and even taught how.
IS YOUR CHILD BEING TAUGHT TO THINK CRITICALLY?
When I look back on my years in the classroom, I remember the many times I asked a question and saw the hands of my students immediately fly up to signal that they knew the answer. The answers these “quick thinkers” gave, especially for questions on more complex issues, were usually wrong. How many times I told my kids to put their hands down and to take time to think. I reminded them that they weren’t catching a train, that thinking takes time and effort and that the quickest answer isn’t necessarily the best answer.
Obviously, my students had been trained by their previous teachers to believe that speed is a sign of being smart. Teachers often praise quick answers. That idea has some validity when talking about recalling information, but that’s not the same as critical thinking. Critical thinking is not the quick regurgitation of information that a student has memorized or even absorbed. Critical thinking is what we do with the information, how we apply it to larger issues and to solving problems. It usually involves answering “why” questions, not just “who,” “what,” “where,” and “how” questions.
SCHOOL OR HOME
Whether your child goes to school or is schooled at home, you want him or her to learn to think critically and to exercise independent thought. To do this, your child should be given time and quiet because thinking requires focus and concentration. Also, thinking needs to be encouraged and praised because it’s hard work even though it’s exciting, stimulating and rewarding. When a child has teachers who delight in their students’ exploration of a question and independence of thought, that child’s self-esteem and ability to think critically will flourish.
Is your child being taught to think critically? Have you had any experiences regarding this? Why not share them with us.
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