Thinking Aloud: Why Teach Critical Thinking?

Mar. 7, 2015 by Darius

I was at an event this week (that I won’t name for reasons that will become obvious) featuring an Arab social scientist.  His research surprised me not because of its findings but because of how poorly it seemed to have been constructed and thought through, drawing conclusions on the flimsiest of reasoning.  Pondering this, it occurred to me that Middle Eastern governments have had little or no reason to promote critical thinking in their education systems.

The whole point of critical thinking is to be able to challenge assumptions, test hypotheses, and evaluate the credibility of new information.  But when has any Middle Eastern government ever wanted its people thinking outside the box?  Why should they?  Even though the Middle East has both secular and religious governments, monarchies and “republics,” all of its governments have one thing in common: the group on top has been on top for decades.

If governments want the people to believe what they’re told without question, then there’s no point to teaching critical thinking in the schools.  The problem isn’t just an oversight in the domestic K-12 education system: I know a college student from a Middle Eastern monarchy who attends university in the US at his government’s expense; he arrived in the US intending to major in a STEM field but quickly changed his mind, which was not itself a problem.  His government was content to pay for his degree in any major, any major *except* political science.  Apparently, thinking deep thoughts about political philosophy and comparative government is not on the monarchy’s approved list.

This week I saw the results of the lack of critical thinking in the presentation referenced above.  On my recent trip to the Middle East, I saw it in the tendency, even of well-educated people, to believe in far-fetched conspiracy theories.

While the governments may believe they are insulating themselves from challenge, at the end of the day, a lack of critical thinking skill makes their people that much more susceptible to demagoguery in all its forms.

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