Arming oneself with critical thinking skills

This week one of the deadliest school shootings in American history occurred at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

In addition to the 19 school children and 2 teachers killed, 17 injured, and the trauma that it has permanently inflicted on the families, loved ones, and community, the response by the public, law enforcement, activists, and politicians of all ideological stripes was mostly predictable.

The left repeated its’ pleas for more gun control, and the right engaged in thoughts and prayers rhetoric, attributed the attack to a series of real and imagined causes (e.g., mental illness), and offered dubious solutions that have not been supported by empirical evidence (e.g., hardening schools, arming teachers, etc.)

There is nothing new here. But for the general public, whose interest in 2nd Amendment issues, and attention spans that ebb and flow, it’s extremely important to not simply brush aside the arguments, or blindly pick a side, but to critically evaluate the evidence and logic upon which the claims are based. It’s also necessary to understand that many of the challenges facing the criminal justice system are intractable; they have persisted for a long time and that there are no simple solutions.

Although I’m not suggesting that everyone needs an advanced degree in criminology/criminal justice, philosophy or logic, it couldn’t hurt.

What I am arguing for, however, is that it’s now more important than ever for the public to engage in and learn critical thinking skills. This is not simply criticizing something, or using a left leaning perspective (e.g., critical theory). It’s using the methods of logic to examine important controversial issues of the day.

Widely touted to be the magic bullet for higher education during the 1990s, the term “Critical Thinking” has faded into the woodwork of educational trends.

What researchers, especially educators, believed back then, as many still do now, is that many people hold illogical or irrational beliefs and if they are taught basic principles of logic, they may be able to make better decisions.

What researchers slowly learned however, is that most people’s beliefs, no matter how irrational they may sound (or are) to outsiders, when confronted with empirical research to the contrary, are very difficult to change. Many people do not know what constitutes expertise, nor how this is achieved. That is why it is not simply the presentation of empirical evidence, but also the method by which this information is introduced to belief holders.

What the literature and best practices indicates is that there are better and worse ways to teach and introduce critical thinking. A simple search of the web will provide this kind of information. But as educators, and concerned citizens it’s time to implement these kinds of techniques, rather than easily giving up, which is the natural tendency of most people to do.

Photo Credit: Blink O’fanaye
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