Why don’t we teach our kids critical thinking skills?

I was reading this thread on Quora, and one of the comments included the observation that we teach American schoolchildren scientific facts (if even this), but rarely teach the scientific method, which would better enable them to figure things out for themselves.

I have thought about this off and on, and my conclusion is that there are many institutions, not just religious ones, that benefit from a population that doesn’t think critically about the world. I’m not saying there’s a coherent strategy to keep people uneducated (there’s no need to imagine a plot), but there’s no push to make it happen, so it doesn’t happen. Here are a few such organizations or institutions that I thought of off the top of my head:

  • Marketing: you would prefer it to be easy to convince people to buy your stuff
  • Politics: easier to get people to vote for you if you can use emotion and not logic
  • Military: people with good critical thinking skills might see that military action is usually not your best first option (probably a sub-category of politics)
  • Religion (of course)
  • Professional team sports (probably a sub-category of marketing)
  • Parents who want their kids to grow up believing in the same things they do

 

My first Toastmasters speech: The Icebreaker

Note: when making a speech to a Toastmasters club, you have to open and close the speech in prescribed fashion. The “icebreaker” speech is the standard first speech in the Toastmasters program, designed to get you talking in front of an audience. I procrastinated writing this speech until 10:45 on Friday morning, July 31, with the speech due at our noon meeting that day. I printed it out at 11:50 and walked over to the neighboring office building where our corporate Toastmasters club has its weekly meeting. I mention this so you know I’m not holding this up as an example of a well thought-out speech!


Jorah’s Icebreaker speech, July 31, 2015

Mr. Toastmaster; ladies and gentlemen

(PAUSE)

This is my icebreaker speech… and I panicked at first, thinking that I was going to have to discuss giant Arctic working ships with highly reinforced bows and powerful engines.

(PAUSE)

When I realized I was only expected to talk about myself, I relaxed right away, but then had the challenge of figuring out how to restrict myself to five minutes on a topic that I actually know a lot about.

(PAUSE)

Since our Toastmasters club is work-related, I decided to focus on how I learned some of the skills I use in the job I have now.

What a long, strange trip it’s been

I’ve had few different jobs, not all of them as swanky as the one I have now!

  • I’ve swept floors (I think I’ve probably spent 20% of my working life sweeping floors), washed floors, waxed floors, and installed floors…
  • I’ve built houses; torn houses apart, put roofs on houses, and even dug tunnels under houses…
  • I’ve vacuumed parking lots, driven fork lifts, mixed sand, melted bronze…
  • I’ve gathered chickens at night in barns where the ceiling was so low I couldn’t stand up straight…
  • I’ve gathered eggs, loaded and unloaded trucks, decorated ballrooms at fancy hotels (favorite memory; crossing a Boston sidewalk carrying what looked like a 20-foot marble column), and stocked warehouses…
  • I’ve done inventory of parts for nuclear submarines, sewn futons at a commune in New Hampshire, given people baths, cleaned printing presses, done quality assurance, and inspected medical labels at night in a darkened room with a strobe light running for 10 hours at a time…
  • I’ve done newspaper page layout, published a magazine, delivered newspapers, taught job skills to disabled persons, and stood guard over submarines loaded with nuclear weapons…

As you can tell, none of that sounds like background for a career managing corporate web sites.

But no matter what job I’ve had, I’ve always tried to do my best. I’ve always tried to learn something new at each job, I’ve always tried to solve problems, and — perhaps most important — I’ve always worked hard.

Being a stock control clerk in the Navy, I learned about categories and naming conventions. It turns out that being able to work out sensible names and categories will give you a good foundation for understanding web site construction, where you have to arrange things so that people have a chance of finding them.

By having a new job every few months, I learned how to learn new things quickly.

Being able to walk onto a new job and learn long sequences of processes like how to transform piles of lumber, drywall, and roofing shingles into a house… can help you understand how to write process documentation for publishing web sites.

I’ve discovered that I can look at a problem and relate it to something I learned 30 years ago… and often solve that problem.

I’ve learned that no job is beneath me.

I learned not to look down my nose at someone because of the job they have.

Because…

You are not your job. Your current job doesn’t have to limit where you end up. I’m proof of that. If someone who knew I flunked out of high school saw me working in that chicken barn in 1995, they wouldn’t have credited the idea that I’d be working for a top Fortune 500 company a few years later.

And all of this has made me grateful. I no longer have to stand on wooden platforms thirty feet in the air, with freezing water dripping down my back. I don’t have to shovel manure, or work on sun baked roofs, or risk giant rolls of paper shifting and breaking my leg, nor getting burned by molten aluminum.

(PAUSE)

My life has taken me in some strange directions, and much to my surprise it has now brought me here, to a Toastmasters meeting in a beautiful building in Charlotte, and I’m glad to be here and thank you all for welcoming me.

Mr. Toastmaster…