Quality thought is vital. So why don’t schools foster it?
Dillon Beach, Calif.
How can we hope to thoughtfully address the economic issues, conflicts, world poverty, and many other pressing concerns that trouble our planet, if we don't take the way we think seriously?
We can't. To effectively deal with these issues, we must cultivate the spirit of critical thinking throughout human societies.
Right now we are not even teaching the skills and dispositions of the critical mind in our schools. We are not cultivating the intellect.
Everyone thinks; but we don't always think well. In fact, much of our thinking, left to itself, is sloppy, distorted, partial, uninformed, or prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and all of the decisions we make depend precisely on the quality of our thought. At present, the act of thinking is virtually ignored.
Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking that aims to take the reasoning we all do naturally to a higher level. It is the art of analyzing and evaluating with the goal of improving thought. When making a decision, it is the difference between weighing information to come to a logical conclusion and making snap judgments without understanding the information.
Consider some of the great thinkers: H.L. Mencken, Tom Paine, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Bertrand Russell, and Jane Austen. They became some of the greatest thinkers by not accepting information at face value, but by thinking deeply for themselves, asking questions, and refining their thinking over time. It wasn't easy. Of his own thinking, Charles Darwin said: "I have as much difficulty as ever in expressing myself clearly and concisely; and this difficulty has caused me a very great loss of time, but it has had the compensating advantage of forcing me to think long and intently about every sentence, and thus I have been led to see errors in reasoning and in my own observations or those of others."