Archive for the ‘Raising Critical Thinkers’ Category

Requirements for Critical Thinkers

Brave Writer

Critical thinking grows in an emotionally stable, supportive environment, where real problems are explored by teacher and student together.

When I hear “critical thinking,” I think of criticism—getting judged, graded, or challenged.

It took some time, but one day I heard the term “critical” differently:

  • Critical, as in “crucial”
  • Critical, as in “essential”
  • Critical, as in the “fulcrum” of the issue

Critical thinking is about exploring all the essential elements of a topic—identifying what’s at stake, what’s crucial to take into account. Critical thinking means that the issue merits discussion and exploration.

What research demonstrates is that we lose our powers to think critically when we are under duress. If we feel pressure, if our community threatens us with rejection, if we’re being graded, or someone is yelling, we can’t think critically.

We pick a side that ushers us into safety. Have you ever been in a fight with someone you love only to capitulate to stop the verbal assault? That’s not critical thinking. That’s self-protection.

It’s also not critical thinking if we spend energy agreeing with ourselves—excluding information that doesn’t align with our well-settled ideas and beliefs. The concept is not up for review or investigation. Rather, information, facts, and data are rounded up to reinforce the belief.

I’m not here to criticize the role of apologetics (you conduct an apologetic every time you explain to a child why they need to eat vegetables and take baths against their will).

Rather, to be a critical thinker requires a couple of things:

  1. A supportive, emotionally safe environment
  2. A partner who is an ally, not an antagonist

That’s it!

And this is why I loved writing Raising Critical Thinkers. I think it will help all of us.

Raising Critical Thinkers

Promote Wonder

“Frequently, by the time children reach 3rd grade, the sense of wonder with which they entered kindergarten—wonder out of which authentic thinking and thus thinking for oneself develops—has begun to diminish. By 6th grade it has practically disappeared” (459, Developing Minds, Thomas Jackson).

Traditional education models train kids to devalue their own thinking in favor of right answers and a teacher’s instructions. Little children who are used to exploring the world with their hands and wild imaginations are gradually conditioned to save those impulses for “after school” until they give them up all together before they even get to junior high.

And then we wonder why our teens appear to be inflexible, unable to grasp nuances. They’ve been conditioned by tests and homework to know that there is a right answer. They’ve lost their capacity for wonder. Teens who have retained their imaginations and their wide-eyed wonder are often seen as “not serious” about school or as “immature” or “socially inept.”

A Gift

If there were one gift I could give parents, it would be the ability to protect their children’s natural, not-jaded curiosity through the teen years. To:

  • have a teen boy who is delighted by knitting or a teen girl who wields a power saw,
  • converse with a teen who is enamored of fantasy novels to the point of writing their own and imagining that it could be published,
  • know a teen who becomes so tender to the plight of abused animals, that teen chooses to volunteer at a shelter,
  • raise a teen who plays with LEGO, who climbs trees, who secretly enjoys reruns of the PBS cartoon Arthur.

It’s one of the gifts of home education.

Let’s preserve conditions that promote wonder no matter what ages our children are.

The Enchanted Education for Teens

Still have questions? Learn more in my book, Raising Critical Thinkers.

Raising Critical Thinkers

Don’t Derail Thoughtfulness

Brave Writer

The multiple-choice test ‘right answer’ thinking is what often derails thoughtfulness—evidence of caring about the question, not just surmising the answer a test-maker had in mind.

You’re in class. Teacher hands out the test. Hands on the clock tick. 50 minutes to answer 50 questions. Scantron hits your desk—ding!

What happens in your body? A thrill of adrenaline? Sweat?

You get to the end of the first question: four choices. You can’t decide between (a) and (b). Clock ticking. You can make good arguments for either of them. Clock ticking louder. You fill in one bubble, then erase it, and fill in the other. It’s hard to know which one is right. From one perspective, (a) makes complete sense. But you like (b) because it makes more sense to you.

Finally: you know! You know because you do one thought experiment to help you. You ask yourself, “What did my teacher have in mind when creating this question?” You stop consulting your own thoughts, ideas, and powers of synthesizing.

On you go—new method in mind. You won’t think about possible answers. Instead, you’ll ask “What’s the most likely answer the test-creator wanted me to supply?”

Goodbye critical thinking.

When we reduce learning to right answers alone, and decide whose right answers we must learn, and then put that right answer thinking under timed pressure, we eliminate an important force in our education: our own powerful minds!

Even math. Even spelling.

What would happen if your child could explain why they thought 7 x 8 was 54 or that “field” was spelled “feeled”?

How is it helpful to simply tell that child “You got it wrong?”

This post is originally from Instagram and @juliebravewriter is my account there so come follow along for more conversations like this one!

For more help, I’ve got a whole chapter addressing “multiple choice right answer thinking” and how it’s destroying our children’s natural capacity for wonder and intellectual growth in my new book, Raising Critical Thinkers.

Raising Critical Thinkers

Identify the Storytellers

Brave Writer

Human beings are determined to wrestle information into a worldview that tells the story they love to hear. Let’s help our kids identify the storytellers.

Have you ever thought about the viewpoint of a fairy tale?

Fairy tales are repeated to us from the time we are tiny people in a wide variety of formats. So much so, we accept the narrator’s version as the truest one!

For instance, when I think about the Three Little Pigs, I think I know the true story of what happened. I know the role each character plays, their motives, and who deserves support or scorn.

But do I?

In the first chapter of Raising Critical Thinkers, I wrote about Jon Sciezka’s book “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” told from the perspective of the wolf. His book is thrilling to children—in part because it has never occurred to them (or us!) that there may even BE another viewpoint to consider in this tale. What happens when we listen to additional voices? How do we determine which ones are reliable? Why do we trust the pigs and distrust the wolf?

If we spool this idea further, we can ask the same question about historical events, literature, culture, and media. On what grounds do we automatically trust one version of events or facts and equally distrust another?

Human beings crave storytellers and we are adept at finding ones who tell the stories we love to hear. Part of a robust education is helping our children learn to “name those storytellers” and then to vet them against our own biases and expectations!

That’s one of the chief goals of my book and why I was so enthusiastic about writing it. I love this stuff! I hope you do too.

Go to the book website for details!

This post is originally from Instagram and @juliebravewriter is my account there so come follow along for more conversations like this one!

Raising Critical Thinkers

Podcast: Critically Thinking about the News with Mosheh Oinounou Pt. 2

Brave Writer Podcast

We’re continuing our conversation (here’s part one) with Mosheh Oinounou, a journalist who breaks down daily headlines of the biggest, most relevant news stories on his Instagram. He also publishes a newsletter that aims to share real, verified news sources and hosts a daily news podcast as part of his Mo News Network.

In today’s Brave Writer podcast, we discuss:

  • how to come together despite our division,
  • how to handle differences of opinion within our communities,
  • and what to do about our political polarization.

Show Notes

Coming together as a divided world

In an increasingly polarized political landscape, it can be tempting to hold your opinions close to your chest. We don’t want to push people away, after all. But that would be a mistake. What we really need is for people to share their opinions and beliefs even more. But how we do that matters.

Debating only drags us deeper into our individual belief systems—it inspires us to aim for victory, not solve problems.

Instead, we need to hear from as many people as possible, from as many different situations as we can. When our problem solving accounts for more people we are better for it. Part of what Mosheh does with his network is try and represent the variety of voices out there so that we can all come to better solutions instead of simply validating our own perspectives.

Handling differences of opinion within a community

How do you hold your own beliefs in a polarized world—not hiding them, but engaging with them?

We need to bring everyone into the discussion and make them feel that their experience matters.

People have to be working off of the same facts, even if their opinions on those facts are different.

At some point we stop debating facts. For instance, climate change: we know the climate is changing. It’s undeniable. But the question that we need to focus on is how we deal with that.

The answer to that question—”How do we deal with this?”—is going to be very different depending on who you ask. But when we’re coming up with a solution that is going to affect everyone involved, we need to hear all voices instead of believing that our solution, the one that benefits us the most, is the right one. That is how we bridge our differences.

Our political polarization

In the United States, our elected officials are meant to be representatives of the majority of the people who voted them into office—even when they go against an official’s personal beliefs. We are in an era where breaking party lines as a representative is not respected. It’s not rewarded. And yet, despite how broken our politics are, there is proof that democracy works. When people cause enough noise to get their voices heard, we can change our government.

If we can respectfully disagree with each other, the world will be a better place. Things will get done, and the actions we take will positively affect more people and leave fewer behind. But it’s going to take work to get there, and that work starts with you.

If you’re looking for tools and support in raising kids in a media-saturated environment, consider reading Raising Critical Thinkers. It is designed to raise kids who are mindful and know how to vet their own sources and think for themselves. In the world we live in today, I can hardly think of anything more important than that.


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