How To Teach Your Children To Be Critical
Your children need the skills necessary to navigate this complex and dangerous world. With the proliferation of lies spread through the media, they need critical thinking to separeate the wheat from the chaff. Here’s how you help them develop this critical skill.
It seems like every day our world is becoming a scarier place. We are bombarded by news stories of terror, corruption and scandal. We’re told that changes in the law are being imposed for our safety and expected to believe, outright, the plethora of opposing opinions from politicians and media sources. It’s a crazy time to be alive, and even more worrying for those who are trying to raise children in this climate. More than ever before, critical thinking skills are essential to pass on to the younger generation, and it’s our responsibility to do just that.
Why Is Critical Thinking Important?
You only have to switch on your computer today to see stories claiming the government is staging terror attacks, directly next to reports on the threat of religious extremism. With more information than ever at the tips of our fingers, separating the true from the false, and thinking objectively, requires a substantial level of brainpower.
The University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies created a comprehensive handbook referring to the idea of “red teaming.” In short, it discusses how failure and mistakes are often predictable, and therefore avoidable. Using observation of personal bias, mindset and experience, red teaming introduces a more clinical strategy for decision-making and puts particular focus on determining its own effectiveness.
In our modern world, this ability is not only important; it is unavoidable. We have to find a way to sift through the constant bombardment of bias media and find our own truths within all of the nonsense.
Is It Something That Can Be Taught?
“But intelligence is set,” I hear you cry. Surely cognitive ability is something afforded to you at birth, and although information can be taught, thinking patterns cannot. In fact, this is no longer believed to be the case.
Reuven Feuerstein, who died in 2014, is often hailed as a leading voice in modern critical thinking practices, introducing theories of structural cognitive modifiability to the world. He believed that natural intelligence was directly related to critical thinking and that models could be put in place to help enhance these processes in children.
His ideas were based around metacognition—the concept of thinking about the way you think—and his practices saw real-world results in the IQs of his test subjects. He did not aim to impart intelligence, but instead encourage young people to understand their own brain processes further. One study saw participants gain 12-20 months on their mental age, which are unarguably impressive findings.
The following concepts make up the some of the main ideas in critical thinking practices:
Critical thinking works around the basis that perspective heavily influences thoughts and beliefs. Because of this, getting to grips on our own worldview—and the triggers that have caused you to think that way—allows you to be much more objective when considering problems on a global scale.
One fantastic tool for this is self-assessment, and an example of its use can be seen already with your child in school. If they receive a poor grade, reviewing the assessment, and where they went wrong, decreases the chances of similar mistakes being made in the future.
No issue is black and white, and understanding the gray area between requires the ability to see things from alternative perspectives. Devil’s advocacy is a concept that refers to considering the opposite point of view to the one you hold.
This is something that can be easily taught to children by parents in the comfort of your own home. Simply by raising questions and alternative viewpoints when your child presents you with an opinion you can help them to understand this more complex and varied way of thinking.
Often political unrest and, subsequently, media bias are the result of a contrast in cultural ideals. Occasionally these are down to unavoidable, juxtaposing beliefs, but every so often they are due to simple misunderstandings.
Helping your children understand the many faces of human life on our planet is one of the best ways to help them dissect the plethora of information they are faced with on a daily basis. Travel is by far the most powerful learning tool for this, as it provides first-hand experience, but a general focus on cultural education is the next best thing! Encouraging questions and discussions is also a vital pursuit.
Our brain is hardwired to think certain things, and unless we are aware of this, our ability to be critical is severely handicapped. Group mentality is something often talked about in politics and refers to our natural cognitive bias to not change the status quo. These flaws in thinking can also be seen in our preference to visually appealing stimulus.
While once these brain processes may have helped up navigate our indigenous worlds, they are outdated in the modern life. Helping your children overcome this barrier simply requires you to educate them about it. Check out this full list of common cognitive biases to help gain a greater understanding, which you can then pass on to your little ones.
If you’re serious about ensuring your child gets a comprehensive critical thinking education, this requires more than school alone. The Critical Thinking Community is an American board that provides teachers and parents with all the necessary resources to help kids learn to be more reflective.
With so much great information and courses available online, teaching your little ones to be critical is easy. So what are you waiting for? There’s no better time than now to get started.