Why we should have critical thinking on our minds

“Google it.” How often do you hear people say this on a weekly basis? It’s a fair statement – why not just type a question into your phone, have the answer in less than 60 seconds and go on your way? Getting answers on the internet an efficient way of concluding an argument, sounding familiar on a topic you know nothing about, or helping with homework.

I am as much of a fan of a quick Wikipedia reference as the next person. However, at the risk of becoming a killjoy, I do think it’s important that we stop to assess how we’re using it. That is, the degree to which we are critically assessing the information we are gathering. Who has written the content? What are the motivations for it? Is there bias? I became aware the other day that my social media feeds are full of people that I agree with on most topics, thus subconsciously confirming in my mind that of course I’m right, because ‘everyone’ agrees with me.

It is worth thinking about how we are setting up children to properly understand the world. Do they understand bias, or do they blindly accept whatever the first website tells them? I suggest that if we are conscious that we as adults are having a hard time, they, as children who look to their parents and teachers as role models, are likely to be doing the same.

So, what can we do about it?

We can teach children to thinking critically about issues both in the classroom and at home. Indeed, critical and creative thinking is a significant part of the curriculum. Thus, teachers can employ various teaching strategies that depend less on the content that is taught and more upon what teachers do and ask students to do, that is, it is more about the teaching strategies that are utilised (Hattie, 2009). Students should be given the opportunity to understand the concepts according to their own individual life view, informed by their experiences.

As parents, there are simple ways to inspire problem solving in children. Encourage them to ask “why” and try to give them an honest answer. It can drive you insane at times, but it’s much better than having a child who blindly accepts everything that they come across. Give them opportunities to be creative and take risks as simple as switching plain for self raising flour just so they can see what happens for themselves. And finally, avoid the temptation to solve problems for them because it’s quicker! I’m sometimes on the verge of getting too involved during science experiments in my classroom when I can see they’re going wrong – but arguably, this is when they learn the most.

Without having to have a prescribed strategy for engineering kids’ critical and creative thinking, I think it’s really just important to be aware of the need for it. I am all for kids learning how to use the internet to their advantage as there are so many obvious gains to be made - we just need to make sure that we encourage the right thinking in ourselves and others so that we are getting a view of the world that encompasses a variety of perspectives.

Rose Pennington