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

 

Leaping forward… into the quiet center

I haven’t fully worked out what I want to say here, but I wanted to get something typed out so that I don’t forget that I want to write about it.

I spend a lot of time online. Twitter, Google Plus, even Facebook. I see a lot of posts by people encouraging everyone to seize the day, start their small business, travel to exotic places, write their book… and I’m sure that’s all great advice. Really! I probably will try to write a book someday, and even though I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur, if you are, then you probably owe it to yourself to give it a real shot.

But not all of us need to be world travelers, even if we can afford to, which (obviously) most people cannot. Some of us like going home at the end of the workday and leaving work at work… people who start their own businesses probably need to be thinking about their business pretty much all the time, or that’s what I hear. And so far, I haven’t thought of a single story or non-fiction book idea that’s just burning up in me, trying to get out to the world.

My resistance to the “rah rah rah” cheerleader crowd goes deeper than that, though. I think it has to do with a feeling that the go out and burn your mark on the world idea is hooked to an assumption that fast movement, outward-facing action, loud & forceful speaking, and shaking things up are the only ways to be “a success.” As if the only right mold is the one that produces extroverts. I think, too, that it’s aligned with the “growth = success” model that sees wilderness as “undeveloped” and not gorgeous and complete in itself, that sees efficiency and productivity as the only modes of action, and counts speed and size as sole measures of value.

To be honest, none of that appeals to me. I need to think that way at work a lot, because they pay me to get lots of work done. But when I come home, I want to be, not produce.

I seem to be attracted to things that are not quick. I am one year into training in Aikido, where (at my dojo at least) I am not likely to reach the first level of black belt for at least eight to ten years. In my free time I’m likely to be reading, knitting, or learning to weave.

I think there’s a place in the world for taking time, for not rushing to a goal, for learning the subtle aspects of something.

Tyranny

I was thinking about the news one recent day, and I started to wonder why so many dictatorships spend so much time, money, and energy suppressing their populations. I thought something like “if I had any urge to be a tyrant, I’d prefer to be the absolute ruler of a rich nation than a poor one, as there would be many more resources and fun things for me to own and do than otherwise.”

As I continued mulling on this concept, I realized that if the citizens subjects were convinced that they were actually free, then they wouldn’t even be a threat to my rule, not realizing that they were being oppressed. In fact, only really stupid dictators wouldn’t see this; the ones who saw the world from a zero-sum perspective.

It struck me immediately that if I could think of this, then many smarter and more ambitious people had to have already not only thought of this, but implemented it, and I should be able to look around the world and see evidence of this in existing countries.

Suddenly, and sadly, the history of U.S. foreign and domestic policy since the end of the second world war made a lot more sense.

Believe me, I know how paranoid this sounds, I don’t claim it’s objectively true, and I don’t plan to haul this theory out at get-togethers for the rest of my life. I just wanted to type it out to get it out of the cabinet of curiosities that is my subconscious mind.