Why is critical thinking important?
We live in an information-rich society, surrounded by almost instantaneous access to more data than ever before. As a child if I wanted to know something I would have to go to the library and look for a book. If I could find a book on the subject that I wanted I would then have to search the index, scanning for words pertaining to the aspect that had spiked my curiosity. This is a long winded process if all you wanted to know was who scored the winning goal in the FA Cup in 1956.
Just here now, in my house, I have four computers that can connect to the Internet. My phone can connect to the Internet. My Nintendo Wii can connect to the Internet. My iPod can connect to the Internet. And soon, I am sure, I will be able to have the Internet imprinted on the inside of my eyelids so that all I have to do is blink to access the Internet. Millions upon millions of bits and bytes of digital data cramming the information byways vying for our attention.
It used to be that you had to remember things, that a major part of the currency of intelligence was who could retain the most facts. I don’t think that this is the case any longer. Certainly its important to remember stuff. Its much better if, in the heat of debate, you can remember some important piece of evidence, but its no longer the be all and end all.
Peruse the Internet on any number of subjects and you will find about a zillion hits some saying one thing and others saying quite the opposite. How do you know what to believe? Which are the credible sources? What arguments stand up and which ones should be dismissed? The ability to differentiate bullshit from fact is an essential skill when presented with conflicting arguments. And once you have discerned the nugget of gold within tons of dirt intelligence can really show itself in how it uses it to make connections and to be creative.
These are the skills that children need to be learning in school. The problem is that they are not necessarily the skills that the teachers themselves have. We all of us fall prey to erroneous thinking and believe stuff for no better reason than it’s what everyone else thinks and that’s what I’ve always thought. The challenge is to accept that we need to not only question all that we come across, but to hold our own beliefs up to the same exacting scrutiny. And when the children in our care challenge those beliefs to respond in a way that doesn’t show impatience or intolerance but teaches them the value of inquiry and curiosity.