How to Better Teach Critical Thinking – Model it!

By June 30, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

According to one of many insightful comments attributed to Mark Twain:  “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

Given that premise, consider the following faulty generalizations:

Ideologies are a great thing. They provide us with consistent belief systems. They help us make decisions in line with our moral convictions. In this way, they simplify our lives and enhance our efforts to sustain a moral and ethical society.

Ideologies are a terrible thing. They cause us to get stuck in dogmatic thinking. They make us blind to other perspectives than our own. They make it difficult to reach consensus by restricting our sense of empathy. They encourage us to oppress or ridicule those we disagree with, or even to go to war.

Which one do you believe is “closer” to the truth? I submit that both statements are simultaneously right on the mark and equally incorrect.

It’s just my conjecture, but I believe that most reasonably intelligent folks would say they’re somewhere in the middle, or it depends on the topic, or the circumstances, or even the time of day.

Or think of it this way. It is similar to arguing that water is a great thing to a man who is drowning. Perspective and timing matter.

For example, most of us would say cancer is bad. At the same time, some scientists might argue cancer serves as a vital element for the long-term sustainability of the human species by eliminating defective genes. Others go as far as claiming that the real cancer on Planet Earth is us – human beings!

That’s an interesting theory for sure, but my point is there are many points of view, even with issues that are seemingly clear-cut.

Over the next few months of political campaigning, we will hear lots of talk about ideologies and are likely to hear the term ideologue tossed about frequently. People on both sides of the political spectrum will be labeled ideologues by their opponents.

This is because the term typically has a negative connotation and is often used to discredit the other person by insinuating they operate under a rigid, anti-intellectual mindset: He doesn’t listen to facts or reason…he’s just an ideologue.” 

Here’s the reality.  Just as we are all jerks on occasion, we are also all ideologues. Every single one of us.

A political ideologue is simply a person who acts in accord with an ideology. As defined, an ideology is a well-thought-out, coherent worldview, informed by bedrock values and dedicated to specific goals. Thus, an ideologue seeks to develop, advance, and implement policies that reflect that view embody those values, and achieve those goals.

Those who are firmly opposed to abortion are ideologues. So are those who believe it is a woman’s right to choose. You name the issue, there are people with firmly held viewpoints on both sides. And they are typically not budging. Because they are ideologues.

There is nothing intrinsically scandalous or objectionable about being an ideologue.

Wouldn’t you prefer a president, elected representative, school superintendent, or even a friend or spouse who has thought deeply about the problems we face and who’s grounded in core beliefs and clear-cut values (in other words, an ideologue) over a shallow-thinking opportunist or a cynical moral/ethical chameleon? As we know, this is not always a clear, black-and-white choice, especially THIS year!

At the same time, don’t we want to be surrounded by reasonable people who can also think critically and adapt their viewpoint based on additional research or reflection?

Isn’t this what we want our children to learn? Is the purpose of education to close our children’s minds to particular knowledge or ways of thinking, or is it to open their minds and allow them to become critical thinkers?

You see, the problem is not that people are ideologues, but that we have different and opposing ideologies.

For example, your ideology is undoubtedly different from my own. Since human beings have a natural tendency to believe that our own ideas and positions are the correct ones, we sometimes get frustrated when somebody dares to view the world differently.

As a result, we think or say, “I have principles, but you, sir (or ‘fool’), are an ideologue,” turning the word “ideologue” into a derogatory term that is code for “I disagree with your principles and beliefs.”

And, there’s this:

Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.  As Aristotle once proffered: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Isn’t this a state of mind we want?

As I wrote a few days ago, this mindset Mr. Fanon references brings us down the path of rigid thinking and lack of compromise/cooperation.

Let me illustrate with a few quick examples of shallow thinking from some mailers funded by out-of-state dark money and sent to Oklahoma households in the last two weeks.

Does anything on these cards reflect the type of honest and thoughtful critical thinking we would like from political candidates?

Whether you agree or disagree with the representations, wouldn’t you prefer to have a clear discussion of the issues affecting our state? I hope it’s not just me!

Labeling someone as a liberal, or a liberal “tax and spend” group, solely on the fact that they support increased funding for Oklahoma public schools and teachers is based on the close-minded mindset of ideologues, folks on the far right who push for lower taxes at all costs while seeking greater school choice and competition.

To be fair, those of us who oppose vouchers, private charters, and increased school choice are also married to the ideology that these things will do long-term harm to America and exacerbate the problems of classism, segregation, and providing equal opportunities for all children.

I have been a registered Republican for nearly four decades. But, I also have a brain that I’ve trained to capture nuance and shades of gray, rather than viewing important issues like these through an all-black or all-white lens.

This is also why I continuously read, study, and analyze the viewpoints of others related to these topics. I choose to not be a lemming, not intentionally anyway.

I firmly believe that being critical of my own thinking helps me become a better critical thinker.

And, as adults, isn’t modeling these attributes the best way to teach our children to think more deeply and to develop a healthy level of skepticism?

After 1,000 words, maybe all I’m saying is we should all think a little bit more and react a little less. That might be good for our kids to see.

A final thought:

As a state and society, wouldn’t it be nice to somehow move beyond the labels and the ad hominem attacks, away from the D’s and the R’s, the liberals and the conservatives, the ideologues and the righteous, and ALL our other “tags” that seek to sort and separate, and just have a civil conversation on how we can work together to leave America in a better place for our future generations?

Wasn’t this the notion fostered by our founders over two centuries ago? You remember – those imperfect guys in funny clothes that sought simply to create an America based on justice, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

They weren’t perfect people either, but they did have a few good ideas. Maybe we should start there.

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