Recent events in our American political system have caused me to develop shortness of breath (screaming at the TV), not to mention insomnia (composing angry letters). Here’s a shocking spoiler – I’m left-leaning (although I consider myself an independent), so right at this moment, I think things, politically, are perfectly loathsome. But, truthfully, I have not felt like our political system was working very well for a long time… and as I have tried, in my own, remedial way, to analyze what the problem is, I keep coming back to one thing: when today’s generations of adults were growing up – was anyone teaching them how to think critically? I’m not sure anyone was trying to teach them how to think at all.
Just to give you a little background into my thought process – perhaps my strongest passion in life, next to my husband and family (love you guys!) has been education. I was an educator for 35+ years, and it kind of becomes integral to who you are. It means you think about things from a bottom up perspective – how do we start in order to get where we want to go – and in this case: where did we start to get where we are?
I taught regular education for a while, and mostly the curriculum was focused on teaching facts, with a few mathematical skills thrown in for good measure. But when I got into gifted education, the curriculum was suddenly “differentiated,” and we learned that the smart kids should be instructed how to do more than just memorize – they should be able to infer, apply, analyze, evaluate and synthesize! That meant I should ask my students to think about how and why instead of just who, where and when. In my classes, kids were encouraged to look for evidence and analyze whether the evidence was valid. We discussed how to make a reasonable decision based on facts (not “alternative facts”). We practiced problem solving, using criteria that we, as a group (this is a novel concept), had established as essential to creating a productive solution.
Did this kind of thinking apply to the real world? Of course it did. Should ALL children have been receiving this kind of instruction? Absolutely! And I hope, in today’s schools, this is being done, but what of the current generations of adults? How were they taught to think? That’s kind of a scary question, because based on what’s happening, I don’t think there was a best practice in place.
So, anyway, this line of thought led me to wonder – do today’s 40 and over crowd (the largest population of voters) think about where they’re obtaining their information? The Pew Research Center tells us that 64% of the adult population uses Facebook and roughly half of those people obtain news from that site. That doesn’t mean they get all their news from Facebook, but at least a portion of it comes to them that way. Do you think all those people are aware that their Facebook feed is filtered? Well, if they read newspapers, magazines or pay attention to the news on TV, they might, but they’d have to actually be paying attention, by which I mean processing the information being flung at them from almost every corner. Thinking is hard work (and here I’m making the grimace emoji face, which I’m sure you’ll recognize because EVERYBODY pays attention to their phones).
The Pew Center also tells us that television is where most of us get our news. It’s easier than reading, you can multi-task, and you can usually just watch the same channel every day without getting irritated by what the newscasters say. But think about this, how many of you have changed the channel if you disagreed with the “slant” that you perceived was being given on a particular news story? Most of us, because, as research shows, we want to hear what agrees with our viewpoint.
So if the information we receive, agrees with our point of view, how many of us would question it, even if it sounds pretty crazy? How many would make some attempt to fact check it? Ummm… not so many. That lack of intellectual discipline is what leads to people to believe the ridiculous conspiracy theory stories that are promoted by the tabloids (do most people even realize that a whole lot of the magazines they see in the checkout line at the grocery store are “tabloids?”) Those foolish stories usually get debunked by multiple credible sources, but once they’re out there (and have been repeated, reposted and retweeted), how many people bother to follow up on them?
What about when you hear an opinion that you strongly agree with, do you ever try to find out how that concept is presented from the opposite perspective? Well, ever is a long time, but I don’t know that most people make the effort to look at both sides of an issue and develop a measured opinion, even on important issues. I mean who has time for that – right?
However, add your children into that equation and your outlook on how people should be making decisions may change. I have seven grandchildren and I desperately want them to become thorough critical thinkers. I want them to be able to look at arguments from multiple perspectives, and I want them to understand that just because someone important says it’s so, that doesn’t make it so. I want them to think about the media sources that they use, and question when something doesn’t make sense. I want my grandchildren to know the difference between a primary and a secondary source of information and a fact and an opinion. I want them to read in depth, analyze what they read, and make reasoned decisions and choices. I think most people want this for their children.
But, I have to be blunt, I don’t think that some adults, who continue to blindly support our current administration, are thinking critically about what has happened in the last six months. I don’t think they’re weighing the immediate effects of the decisions that have been made against the long-term outcomes of those decisions. I don’t think they are making an effort to look at the potential immigration ban from the point of view of the immigrant, nor do I think they have researched the plethora of problems that would occur from the building of an actual brick and mortar wall across the entire extent of our Mexican border, and there are plenty of other examples that I could give.
During our recent rally and protest in Phoenix I listened to an interview of a well dressed middle-aged man, who was standing in the line to go into the Civic Center to cheer for the president. He was being interviewed by a reporter from channel 12 news, and he said he supported the president 100% because the president’s done what he said he would. He said he didn’t understand why people thought the president was racist because he’d done more for black people than any other president. He offered no evidence or statistics to back up either statement. I wondered if he’d read this online or if he’d simply heard someone else say it? And what exactly did he mean by he has done more for black people?
This gentleman, who made vague, unfounded statements is in good company, though. Our legislators, from both sides of the aisle, do this regularly, and because they are elected officials we adults often give their opinions or statements of “fact” credence. And sometimes a favorite newscaster gets carte blanche, too. Oh and then there’s the internet…especially Facebook – I’m pretty sure everything on Facebook is factual (and here I’m rolling my eyes).
So I guess what I’m saying is be critical thinkers, PEOPLE! Do some research. Look at both sides of an issue. Try to understand what those who have a different point of view from yours are saying. Make sure you have the actual facts and not the alternative facts. Think about more than just the monetary value of making a given decision – think about long-term effects. How will it affect your children and your grandchildren?
And there you have the bottom line – our children… because you are the one setting the example. If you are not a conscientious, informed decision-maker, how important will your children think it is to take the time to look at things critically? Teach your children well, folks, because they (and our country) are counting on you.