IN THESE CRITICAL DAYS WE CANNOT AFFORD TO LACK CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” – Henry David Thoreau

I know it’s become cliché each election cycle, but I’m going to say it anyway, this is the most critical election of our time. Rarely in the history of this country have the American people been confronted with two widely different views of how to proceed as a nation. One side is populace, advocating an altruistic society where all are entitled to a level playing field with the assistance of government by the people. The other side clearly advocates an Ayn Rand society ruled by the elites. When I say elites I mean the wealthiest people who have the means and the intention to ensure they have a government in place that allows them the freedom to do what they will despite the impact on the people. They say they hate government, yet want to have government around to ensure they will always be wealthy and quite frankly, won’t allow anyone else into their clubhouse (literally).

You would think these choices are obvious to the American people and that the populace side of the argument would be double digits ahead of the other with the people. But it’s not. The polling is still tight. Despite the information out there, many people support what is seen as issues and candidates not representing what’s in their best interests. Sad but true. I propose that the current situation is a culmination of years of careful manipulation, mainly from the right, to compel educators in our country to leave out “Critical Thinking” skills from curriculums across the country. Worse yet, a concerted effort to convince people in the country to not think critically via the mainstream media, both news and entertainment.

As John Dean points out, the right-wing mentally is one who “follows orders” without question. They believe it and do what they are told to do. If people have developed critical thinking skills, they would question what they are told, demand explanations as to why things are the way they are and then question the explanations. It is often amusing to hear a child ask “why” and when told ask “why” again. As we have matured, we’ve been given answers and are told to accept those answers for what they are. The chants of the 1960’s “Question Authority” had a purpose. You rarely hear that anymore because to question authority place authority in a bad place, they can’t rule without explaining what they are doing to everyone’s satisfaction.

So to begin, what is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking…the awakening of the intellect to the study of itself”

The concept of critical thinking has been developing throughout the last 2500 years. However, the term has it’s roots in the mid to late 20th Century.  Per http://www.criticalthinking.org:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observations, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. 

          It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking – in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes – is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking. 

          Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills (“as an exercise”) without acceptance of their results. 

Why Critical Thinking?

The Problem: Everyone thinks it is our nature to do so. However, much of our thinking left to itself is biased, distorted, partial, uniformed or down-right prejudiced. Shoddy thinking is costly both in money and in quality of life.

A Definition: Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result: A well cultivated critical thinker raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely and then gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively and comes to well-reasoned conclusion and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards. They think open-mindedly and communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

It is the concept of critical thinking that led to the scientific method that resulted in the advancement of the human race in terms of controlling our environment and extending our lives by extending our knowledge of the world around us. The method takes nothing for granted or for face value. All things need to be explained, reasoned and then shown to be applicable. It is why we no longer see the world as being flat, or the center of the universe. It is why we no longer see disease as “bad humors” or demon possession resulting in medical treatments to cure or control affliction and extending life. It is why we no longer see monarchs as descendant from God Himself and entitled to unfettered obedience. It is why democracy was created; it is why we created government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is why we know that all people are equal and helps us to advance as a civilization. It involves continued progression forward, not staying put accepting things for how they are; for that is conservatism. This is why the concept of critical thinking has been purposefully eroded away whenever those of the conservative movement get the chance.

For example, in July 2012 the Texas Republicans sought to ban critical thinking in the public schools, the schools where the masses attend because they cannot afford the private and charter schools where the elites and entitled future leaders of the State and country attend.

From the position paper in the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform:

“Knowledge Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a re-labeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” 

This was a follow-up to Arizona’s HB2281 that banned the teaching of Chicano Studies in public schools and the fact that the numbers of minority students in Texas public schools have been increasing. Perhaps they fear that if these students are taught not to accept that they are anything other than “minority working class” people, and to not challenge the authority of the ruling classes, because they are always right, they may actually challenge that authority. Again, critical thinking allows, compels people to not accept things for as they are. It encourages change in a world that is supposed to be always changing as we learn and experience more.

In July 2010, Breanne Harris wrote about “Why Does Gen Y Lack Critical Thinking Skills?”

http://critical-thinkers.com/2010/07/why-does-gen-y-lack-critical-thinking-skills/

She notes that numerous studies are confirming that the new entrants into the workforce and recent graduates (Gen Y) rate below average on critical thinking. The blame is placed on the parents. She implies that Gen X people have been taught that no matter what, everybody wins, everybody gets a trophy. So they did the same with their children. There is no emphasis on studying, that life is a competition, that there are consequences to not putting in the effort. They empower the entitled views of those currently graduating and entering the work force. So the need for critical thinking is not nurtured. Why should it? If everything is fine, if you are already the best you can be, why aspire to more? Why question the ways things are and explore ways to make things better?

This cannot be blamed on Republicans. This is the result of frankly lazy parenting. Parents wanting to avoid conflicts with children or give them painful memories for not being the best every parent think their child is. I think this is a problem that spans all political views. However, if the schools will not instill critical thinking into their curriculums the problem is not resolved. Schools are indirectly forced to no spend time teaching critical thinking because of “high stakes testing” where they need to teach students “to the test” instead of how to find the answer themselves or question why that is the correct answer, or even if it is the correct answer. Teachers must do this or face getting bad reports from test results that could impact their pay. So it is a systemic problem in educating our children. So the major problem is that we have a growing number of people entering our workforce, entering the citizenry who lack critical thinking skills and are now prone to accept what they are told by the power elites without question.

So how does this play in the political process? Well though I think many of our leaders, especially on the right side of the aisle lack critical thinking skills (those who question climate change, those who think women can’t conceive after “legitimate rape,” those who think non-whites are inferior to whites, those who think cutting taxes will increase revenues) the problem is with the voting populace.

We have growing numbers of citizens who have not been raised with refined critical thinking skills, as they enter our society they are subject to mainstream media who create a narrative that political issues are closer than they actually are to get viewership. They confuse the populace with trivial matters that play to the more mundane and base emotions of the voters. They love to preface any inane, factually incorrect statement with the phrase “some people say” that cons the viewer into thinking that this is a legitimate issue with voters. They don’t question it because that isn’t how they were raised. The media leaves out important facts to the populace in presenting their stories and providing their explanation as to why something happened. The 2010 sweep of Republicans into Congress and State Houses and Governorships was presented as a complete repudiation of the Obama agenda. They didn’t mention that only 37% of registered voters casted ballots in 2010 and those who did vote tended to be more of the conservative bent. By leaving that out, those who thought differently began to think that if that was the case, maybe we are a more right-wing country than we actually are. That wasn’t the case. Even today, you poll people on individual issues, abortion, progressive tax codes, water and food safety, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid; specific provisions of “ObamaCare,” the vast majority of voters actually support the left-wing agenda. However, all they hear is that we are “centered right” without explaining why, over what specific agenda items, makes us center-right?

So mainstream media leaves us only a partial story and few people have the intellectual curiosity born from developed critical thinking skills to “question authority” and do their own research to determine is what they are hearing is in fact true.

This is our current political state. This is why someone so provably anti-populace candidate like Mitt Romney or the Republican slate that is financially supported by not the majority of people, but a handful of millionaire and billionaires, are still close enough in polling to actually win. The information is out there for people to get, but they don’t seek it out, they accept what they are told even if it doesn’t quite ring true. The way the GOP wants it. However, just to make sure, they’ll suppress the votes they can.

So what can be done about this? Well challenge the views of people who not only are opposed to your own, challenge your own views. Keep informed. One of my favorite radio personalities in Randi Rhodes. On her website, before each show she has her “homework” section. A list of stories, research papers etc for you to read to challenge the views being presented that day. Those who follow me on Twitter may notice I usually do an article dump during the day. These are the articles I get from Randi. Sometimes the articles support the right side of the aisle and are worth the read. It challenges me to confirm if my views are valid. You will notice that no one on the right will offer anything to support what they say on the air, only the preface “some people say.”

With issues pending regarding our national debt, stalled economic recovery, women’s health rights, healthcare availability for the average person in the first place, increasing levels of poverty due to decimation of the middle-class, ever-increasing income disparity between the classes, war with Iran, global climate change, we need to be thinking about these issues and how best to address them.

Here is where the lack of the Government and nation’s use of Critical Thinking really failed us all:

Knowledge is power, but you need to have the inclination to get that knowledge and carefully consider that knowledge. Question authority and accept we cannot progress unless we are willing to change long-held views for an ever-changing world. And by all means, be critical.

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