We have ‘a culture of relentless exams, spurious league tables and artificial competition between schools’ that seems to be grinding our students down with an ‘alarmingly high’ levels of illness. The start of a person’s life should be filled with the joys of learning and self-moulding into what they want, instead of being regimented to do strict exams and work that not everyone is suited for.
Conservative party Government policy on schools is never short on critics. Whether its reception tests for five-year-olds or funding cuts, the criticism rolls in. What should the Government put on the curriculum? It seems that exams remove the desire to learn that’s all so important, so perhaps a session of critical thinking would fit well.
Around since Ancient Greece, and admittedly vague, critical thinking is the analysis of facts in order to form a judgement. Immediately, you might think that you do this anyway. But what makes critical thinking different from basic analysis is that it is a state of mind which practices a balance between a measured scepticism and a desire to learn through reason. It is self-directed and self-actualizing: you don’t need to examine it. Critical, internally focused, individuals are ‘less anxious, less hostile, less angry’.
Where would it be useful past relieving stress? ‘Fake News’ may be the most important (and divisive) phrase of the 21st century so far. Since we process information from a much wider number of sources than we used to, it is easy to fall into the traps of falsehood no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on. As a result, opinions that many people form can be based upon bad arguments or totally false claims. Where can we find the truth in a world where the word has lost so much meaning? The saviour of the day could be critical thinking.
Since arguments form part of everything we do from the basis of simple human conversation to the progress of mankind politically, morally, philosophically, and scientifically, it is important to be able to cut through the fat and reach the meat of the meaning. For kids growing up in this world, this is all the more important for them
Even more than this, critical thinking can play a role in ending intolerance, understanding morality, and making some tough everyday decisions. It is a tool for survival that should be on the utility belt of every modern person. It would be especially useful to the modern voter, as some form of clarity today would be useful. This would be key to reducing the need for examinations because the critical thinker, thinking for themselves, is suited to learn more in different ways.
Where do we start? Critical thinking is losing its availability as an A-Level at Sixth Form, and despite many university degrees requiring you to think in this way for a good grade, it isn’t observed. But where it seems to be lacking most importantly is in primary schools and educational institutes for young people. To be able to navigate arguments properly via critical thinking is a position more powerful than most can imagine. To be able to hear what someone is saying and pick apart the right from the wrong is a skill all children should learn.
So, how do you do it? There are several ways to teach this namely the age-old role-playing question and answer. Creating a Socrates-style debate can tease out personal bias, enforce questioning semantics, and make the child ask ‘why?’. The humble ‘why’ is a tunnelling tool to reach the crux of the argument whilst ploughing through any fluffy irrelevancies that might cover the centre.
There are many institutions dedicated to helping the youth grasp this such as The Philosophy Foundation’s ‘Fake News and Critical Thinking’ programme, for example, which goes into schools and looks at training children to think in a different perspective. The course looks at bias amongst other things and can help students truly understand.
The idea is to get students to start thinking for themselves again instead of just relying on the help of a teacher. As invaluable as teachers are, there is something to be said for self-education and personal research beyond the scope of the curriculum. That’s why the country should get critical again.
The Philosophy Foundation. Fake News And Critical Thinking Programme. https://www.philosophy-foundation.org/critical-thinking
Hasan, M. (Dec 2011). Our schools exam system is no longer fit for purpose. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/dec/16/schools-exam-system-not-fit
Jamie (Jun 2019). Great Thinkers on Self-Education: Socrates. Self Made Scholar. Retrieved from http://selfmadescholar.com/b/2009/06/02/great-thinkers-on-self-education-socrates/
National Literacy Trust (2018). Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools. Retrieved from https://literacytrust.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/all-party-parliamentary-group-literacy/fakenews/
OCR (2019). AS and A Level Critical Thinking – H052, H452. Oxford Cambridge & RSA. Retrieved from https://www.ocr.org.uk/qualifications/as-and-a-level/critical-thinking-h052-h452/
Taylor, J. (Aug 2012). Philosophical teaching will get students thinking for themselves again. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2012/aug/14/philisophical-teaching-students
UNESCO (Nov 1995). Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Retrieved from http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13175&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
Weale, S. (Mar 2019). Levels of distress and illness among students in UK ‘alarmingly high’. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/05/levels-of-distress-and-illness-among-students-in-uk-alarmingly-high
Weale, S. (Sep 2019). School heads criticise new reception tests for five-year-olds. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/sep/03/school-heads-criticise-new-reception-tests-for-five-year-olds