Critical Thinking is Vital in the Age of the Internet

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Image Source: David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net

A parent commented to me recently how easy our children have it today. When they’re working on an assignment, all they have to do is search Google for the answers and it’s there. Back in our day, assignments meant hours in the library, searching the catalogues for possible book sources that we then had to look up on the bookshelves. Once we had the books, we had to search through them to find the information we needed to work on our assignment.

At that point in time, I was in hearty agreement that kids today really do have it easy. But the truth is, they don’t. Although information in this age is readily available everywhere, it is often confusing, misleading, and unreliable. It’s been said over and over – “don’t believe everything you read”. Well, today that statement could not be more relevant.

Back in “our day”, the process of publishing information was difficult. By the time a book was published, it will have been through many rounds of editing and proofing, and multiple eyes will have been over it. In this day, any Tom, Dick or Harry can publish anything on the internet and they don’t even have to know anything about the topic to write about it. So even though information is so abundant and so widely available, our children today need to be far more discerning about what they come across.

It’s not just a problem for children. We adults are also susceptible. We race through life at the speed of a bullet train, trying to take in all the signs that fly past us. We are just as easily overwhelmed by it and we can just as easily be led down the garden path. In this age of information overload, it is more important than ever to raise discerning thinkers who have the skills to navigate these vast oceans of information.

Fact or Opinion?

It used to be easier to identify the facts from the opinions. These days, many opinions masquerade as facts. It can be harder to be discerning when we are inundated with information and are short of time to get through it all. Here are some examples of how articles can be misleading:

  • headlines that tell a different story to the body of the article – where the headline tells you something sensational but if you take the time to read the body of the article, you’ll discover that it doesn’t really confirm the truth in the headline.
  • misquoted “facts” – some articles appear to be well researched with links to reputable sources, except that when you check the source, it is either misquoted or misunderstood by the article author and does not support the article’s claims.
  • quoting unreliable sources that are either false, misleading or disproven.

These examples aren’t exhaustive, they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Faulty Thought Processes

What can make it even more difficult to be critical of the information we come across is the fact that some of our thought processes may be faulty. The following video offers a terrific illustration of how thinking can go wrong when our methods of analysis are faulty. At 1:56, you can see all the different types of biasses – and there are a LOT of the them – that can influence our thinking. What may seem like logical deductions end up tripping us up.

Raising Critical Thinkers

In this age of information overload, what we need are critical thinkers who are properly equipped with the skills to evaluate information and determine its true value.

A critical thinker:

  • understands the logical connections between ideas
  • identifies, constructs and evaluates arguments
  • detects inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • solves problems systematically
  • identifies the relevance and importance of ideas
  • reflects on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values

How do we teach children critical thinking?

In Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky offers these suggestions for children:

  • Let your child form theories about how things work
  • Encourage your child’s curiosity
  • Every child has something he is passionate about – encourage your child to build on that passion
  • Be the “expert” – model critical thinking skills by encouraging children to ask questions and by providing accurate information (if you don’t know the answers, look them up!)
  • Help your child find “experts” to learn from
  • Help your child evaluate information from others
  • Promote critical viewing skills – for instance, analyse the programs on TV
  • Teach your child about confounds – i.e. correlation does not equal causation
  • Teach children problem solving processes:
    • identify the problem, issue, dilemma
    • determine the goal
    • think up a variety of solutions
    • consider how each of these solutions might work (or not)
    • try one of the solutions
    • evaluate the outcome of that trial and determine if a different solution is required

Image Source: Knowledge Reform

Inquire: A Guide to 21st Century Learning also offers these 5 critical thinking strategies for students:

 

Or you can teach your child – “Think RED“:

Image Source: Think Watson

For more in depth thinking strategies, you can’t go past Edward de Bono’s “Teach Your Child How to Think” which not only discusses thinking skills but also offers thinking exercises that you can practice with your child.

To help your child understand critical thinking, the following series of videos are also pretty helpful:

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