Education, writing

Critical Thinking

Yesterday I was talking about the love of learning and how we have lost that… or how we have brutally and systemically destroyed that, depending on the schools and teachers you had. I hear far too many stories of my friends’ childhoods to not understand the toll the school system takes.

I’ve been contemplating a number of things I want to say about the toll this takes on society, but a couple of them will take more research than I can contemplate while away from home and dependent on my tablet and hotel WiFi. The correlation between men and dyslexia, for one, as I know three men I’m closely related to deal with difficulties in reading: but they are brilliant men. Boys like they were are not handled well in public schools, but the prevalence of that is something I need to research before I draw any solid conclusions.

No, today I thought I’d point out that (if you hadn’t already noticed, and I suspect you have if you read my blog) that we seem to have lost the ability to think critically and make rational arguments. Two things sparked this: one was a photo of a bottle of turmeric/cucurmin, and the other was an article about the long-term effects of abuse on the brain. The photo of the ‘nutritional supplement’ was shared with the comment that they weren’t really sure what it did, but it couldn’t hurt. I bit my tongue there, but here…

Yes. Yes it could hurt. You don’t know what it does? But you’re recommending your ‘friends’ and I use that term loosely, because for all I know you actually do want to poison them and you’re being cunning and subtle. Hey, friends! Use this stuff I don’t know what it is and you don’t either, and you’ll feel better! Um. I’m not going to wander too far off into the weeds of why exactly this could be dangerous, but I will point out that thinking critically would have eliminated the danger here of potentially damaging one’s loved ones.

The other one, the article about the brain damage, was a little less obvious. I did click through and read it, having a personal interest in the subject matter, and noted a couple of things about it: one, it was not couched in scientific language. Now, I know you could write about science in laymen’s terms (I try to here on the blog) and I know that you can write falsehoods in dry academic language. But it was a little red flag and when I looked at the works cited and saw no papers, no peer-reviewed works, no based-on-actual-data work being used as a basis for that article, I discounted it and clicked back out again. I might, when I have time and a real computer again, do some research. But you know what really bumped me out of trusting that article? The woo. Saying that brain damage could be ‘quickly and easily’ healed. Heh. No. Not even the repercussions of abuse can be ‘quickly and easily’ anything.

Those are just two very small, inconsequential examples of the glurge that floods social media. Without the ability to think critically and judge what is put in front of them… Sayers, the wise woman who has long been one of my favorite authors and is becoming a personal hero as I read more of her non-fiction, put it this way:

“Do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?” She goes one somewhat later in the essay The Lost Tools of Learning (after a trenchant and snarky comment about a cat playing Beethoven) to “although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think…”

One of the most valuable classes I encountered in college was an Epidemiology class. It wasn’t that subject (although I love it, a favorite always) but the professor’s approach to critical thinking where we came up with dubious scientific papers and dissected what was wrong with them. She taught us to look for stated conflicts of interest (and although she did not teach this, if it’s something really eyebrow-raising, I’ve learned to do a bit of research on the writer to find out more about their biases). She taught us to consider that the journal a paper was published in said something about the quality of the paper. In other words, she taught us to be judgemental, critical, in short, to think before we trusted the narrative put forth to us.

Does it make sense? Does it hold up to comparison? Is there data? Where did the data come from and can it be replicated? Who wrote this? Why? Who benefits? Just asking a few of these questions (and I’m sure my readers will suggest more) can start exercising the vital art of critical thinking even in those who are unfamiliar with the application of it.

6 thoughts on “Critical Thinking

  1. on our interview question set for applicants, I ask if they have ever heard of critical thinking or active listening. I don’t even ask if they use it, know it, understand it, agree or disagree with it, I just ask if they have ever even heard of it. 1 applicant out of 20 over the last 2 years. One.

  2. Turmeric is bad – nutmeg is nastier, though. Reminded me of the James White “Sector General” story, though. Given how spot on his depiction of the “right way” to order supplies when you are a government cog, I wonder whether there may be several tons of the stuff sitting around in a commissary warehouse somewhere…

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