Imparting the Ability to Think Critically

I have always felt, and have come to believe even more during my educational career, that the single most valuable thing we can impart on students is the ability to think in a critical manner.  The advent and subsequent explosion of technological means of instant communication and the rise of social media influence has only made this a more difficult task.


Wade into any comment section on an on-line article at your own risk; the bile, venom, and seemingly misplaced hatred will at least give you pause, and at most shake your faith in our species.


It seems as if the plethora of information brought on by our technological advances has, instead of clarifying issues, made things much more muddy.  Back in the early days of the internet, when I was student teaching in Chicago, a student turned in a paper that, in great detail, discussed the holocaust being an elaborate hoax.  He listed as sources multiple internet sites that when viewed did indeed list “facts” and statistics supporting this student’s paper.  (Note: It is fascinating to read how Eisenhower, when he liberated concentration camps, anticipated this sort of thing happening.  He ordered hours of film to be shot and thousands of photographers to document the atrocities that he found, and also invited multiple congressmen to be flown over to witness what had happened in those places.)


Long story short, we have become a people that don’t seek information, we seek validation.  Any opinion that you form, you can find support for it.  I can make a rock solid case based on internet information that aliens built the pyramids and that Paul McCartney is a plumber that replaced the real Paul in 1966. 


Thinking critically is becoming, pardon the pun, more critical.  And the kicker to this is, it’s hard.  Hard work is difficult, and thinking is hard work.  Dr. King said the function of education is “to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”  Intensive thinking is intense; it requires commitment, hard work, and oftentimes a level of sacrifice and suffering that is difficult to summon.


Adrienne Rich spoke not only on the hard work of thinking, but the responsibility of it: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”


We all understand that anything worth having will be difficult; there’s very little more valuable than the ability to think for yourself.  Thanks to all of you who demonstrate these qualities, and impart them on our community’s kids!