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The Importance of Critical Thinking

Ulrich Boser 0
The Importance of Critical Thinking
We need better reasoning skills throughout our society.

As 2020 nears its merciful end, I wanted to post a few words about critical thinking. From elections to COVID-19 transmission to the climate science behind extreme weather, this year has demonstrated the need for better reasoning skills throughout society. This goes not just for the consumers of information, but for journalists, politicians, and academics as well. We’ve seen again and again that a great education and sparkling credentials are no guarantee of sound reasoning skills, especially online. 

Recently, I’ve been working with the Reboot Foundation to try to begin to remedy this situation. Reboot — and its founder and president Helen Lee Bouygues — believe that integrating critical thinking and media literacy education into schools is the first step to improving our reasoning skills as a whole.

To that end, Reboot just released a “Teachers’ Guide to Critical Thinking.” The foundation worked with 13 state and county teachers of the year, from different disciplines and grade levels, to develop this comprehensive toolkit for educators. From teaching argumentative writing to critical thinking in science to philosophy and critical thinking, the guide offers short, digestible articles that give teachers the theoretical background and concrete lesson ideas they need to get up and running. 

Reboot’s approach is based on critical thinking research that suggests teaching critical thinking is best learned not as a standalone subject, but along with content knowledge in various disciplines. Critical thinking doesn’t “come for free” when we learn ordinary subject matter, but, rather, requires explicit modeling and metacognitive reflection. 

Reboot’s guide responds to a genuine need. Teachers surveyed by the foundation in its latest look into “The State of Critical Thinking” indicate that they prize critical thinking, but lack both the materials and the institutional support to teach critical thinking well. 

The survey also found that members of the general public value critical thinking at a theoretical level, but don’t do the concrete tasks, like engaging with other viewpoints, that good critical thinking actually requires. In other words, everyone wants to think they think critically — but unless we start to commit to teaching it with a sound pedagogical foundation, that thought is unlikely to become a reality.

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