Using critical thinking in the information age


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Critical thinking is one of the most important skills any of us can ever learn and one that I believe isn’t being taught very well, especially in high schools.

A recent bout of debate online among teenagers has been about symbolism in novels and essentially whether authors use it. This argument is somewhat pointless because of course authors use symbolism. It’s an incredibly important device, and being able to read between the lines and understand what an author is subtly trying to say is an important aspect of critical thinking.

This also heavily applies to news and politics and what people like the president are telling us. Children need to be taught to be skeptical and how to fact-check something they are being told. When they don’t develop these skills, they don’t know how to confirm or deny what they are being told. It’s much easier to just believe what you hear.

And now that we’re in the age of Ted Talks, YouTube video essays, Wikipedia rabbit holes and highly specific meme pages, it’s easy to get lost in the information and believe what you see. Especially when the people talking seem informed or trustworthy. And all of this is heightened by algorithms creating political bubbles, so you never see another viewpoint unless you go looking for it.

I’m definitely not knocking Ted Talks, video essays, Wikipedia or meme pages; I engage with and get information from all those places. I think they’re great resources, and they serve to get people interested in important issues. There are a lot of experts out there talking about important issues in a more entertaining or easily digestible way.

The problem starts with people who are not experts claiming to be so and deliberately spreading misinformation. An easy solution to that is teaching fact-checking skills and instincts. Just encouraging people to double-check on things they aren’t quite sure about.

The problem gets more complicated when issues or situations are not easily digestible, and they need a more critical and nuanced frame. Not every solution is easy and the ability to understand things with refinement is the only thing that will create a truly informed world.

Understanding racism takes a more critical eye than just saying, “If I’m nice to Black people and most people I know are nice to Black people, then racism is over.” This ignores the systems like housing discrimination and the prison-industrial complex that feed into modern racism.