Critical Thinking for Parrots
Not actual parrots, I’m referring to humans who repeat words over and over without actually knowing what they mean. Specifically the phrase “critical thinking.”
This is a very popular buzzphrase in education. So popular that I constantly see it used by people who have no idea how to actually practice it, yet insist that we teach it to students.
At my previous school there was a daily meeting within my department. One teacher in particular would frequently talk about “critical thinking” in regard to her students. However, she would also spend the meetings talking about how great reiki was despite a complete lack of evidence for it. (And acupuncture, astrology, paleo and alkaline diets, crystals, and and endless amounts of other woo.) She once flat out told me that sea salt wasn’t made of sodium chloride (Seriously. NaCl = salt) because it was “different” and “special.”
You know what? If you’re not even using it in your own life, don’t bother teaching it to students. You’re probably doing it wrong and contaminating their educations with false beliefs about what critical thinking actually is.
It’s not just about “questioning everything,” and the endlessly repeated motto “don’t teach children what to think, teach them how to think” misses the fact that teaching someone “how to think” can be indoctrination instead of education. I hear this parroted by educators, administrators, politicians, and parents, without an actual critical look at what they are saying.
Instead of “what” to think or “how” to think, there is another choice: why to think? It’s not just that we know things about the world, but that knowledge comes from somewhere. Why we know things is often more valuable than the things themselves. Why science works is important. Knowing what the scientific method is can be helpful, and how to use it better still, but actually being able to evaluate why it exists, and why it is the way that it is, that is the greatest type of knowledge a teacher can foster.
Teach me what to think and I’ll take it or leave it.
Teach me how to think and I’ll still approach things my own way.
Teach me why to think and I’ll commit my life to it.