The World Needs Critical Thinkers

With no naïveté intended, politicians are supposed to do the right thing by modeling positive behavior for children, adolescents, and adults.  Regrettably, citizens worldwide have witnessed the worse of political behavior as their leaders continue to use rhetoric to exaggerate, lie, bully, exploit, and promote bigotry.  The issues are varied, including human rights, affirmative action, book banning, media control, academic freedom, undocumented immigrants, gun control, abortion, LGBTQ rights, gender equity, and student loan forgiveness.  While debating these and other issues, politicians have worked steadfastly to sway the public toward accepting their views, be they altruistic or self-serving.     

We have not grown much from the days of ancient philosopher Aristotle who believed “sophistic” rhetoric deliberately used ambiguous words and misleading statements to deceive listeners and potential constituents.  This misuse of language continues to serve as a political tool that intentionally confuses, manipulates, and influences the public.  Negative rhetoric, however, can also support a call to action that highlights critical thinking for younger and older citizens so they have opportunities to better understand the rupture of language and to appreciate the value of becoming independent, rational thinkers. 

The Need for Critical Thinkers

Understanding rhetoric in all its forms—good and bad—requires a sense of inclusivity because it is used not only by politicians but also by parents, neighbors, religious leaders, teachers, professors, philosophers, journalists, news anchors, lawyers, and others.  Regrettably, people’s lack of critical thinking skills is pervasive, which often results in personal challenges as citizens sometimes struggle to differentiate factual information from misinformation and disinformation, with the former reflecting no malicious  purpose but the latter representing deliberate intent to lie and mislead. 

The importance of becoming critical thinkers is especially needed today because people are blitzed with information from their desktops, laptops, iPads, cell phones, and other technological devices.  While using these devices, consumers of information often pursue sources that reinforce their values and opinions, or “ideological bubbles,” thereby hindering an understanding of others’ opinions and perspectives.  Such immediate access to preferred information can easily reinforce biases as well as appreciation for quick, gut-level rhetoric.  Children, adolescents, and adults desperately need to observe positive role models who agree or disagree in an agreeable way as they learn to slow down, reflect on important issues, demonstrate civility, and use truthful information.  Otherwise, the outcomes are obvious: citizens worldwide will lack the ability to critically analyze issues and to think beyond their favorite political leaders, be they republicans, democrats, social democrats, independents, autocrats, conservatives, communists, liberals, progressives, moderates, and others—with or without ethical intent.   

Does a College Education Matter?

Part of this lack of ability to think critically is caused by lack of education.  For example, estimates of the percentage of adult college graduates in the United States vary according to age, ethnicity, gender, duration (4-year and 6-year graduates), and other data sources.  Given these variables, data suggest about one third of American adults have earned a college degree.  Although a college education does not guarantee one’s ability to think critically and analytically, it does support some breadth and depth of standards for substantive thinking in a wide variety of courses. These important experiences increase opportunities for discussing and understanding different viewpoints, which can result in deeper reflection and realization that one’s opinion will be challenged and might be changed.  Regrettably, levels of education in under-developed countries are dismal, and their citizens are more likely to succumb to the rhetoric of politicians. 

What Can We Do?

So how can we support critical thinking?  At the very least, parents, teachers, and professors should not try to sway young people, subtly or directly, toward their point of view.  Instead, teaching and learning thrive on an open-minded atmosphere of respect for different perspectives, and this encourages honest attempts to understand and appreciate others’ feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.  When people feel they can express their opinions without caustic reprisal, they are more likely to be sensitive to varied points of view and to agree or disagree in an agreeable manner.  This type of etiquette is sadly missing in today’s culture worldwide.    

Modeling open-mindedness is also vitally important at home and in school as it encourages comfort and security when discussing and writing about potentially controversial topics.  Because the world is filled with controversy, divergent thinking activities increase content knowledge and help learners to realize that they are entitled to their point of view, that it should be supported with research from credible sources, and that their opinion could change based on information from peers.   

With this foundation established, positive political activism will flourish, which is an  admired activity in America, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, and other countries. Recently, citizens worldwide have witnessed Iranians demonstrating courage to protest their government’s oppressive and abusive treatment of girls and women.  These political movements are vitally important because they can have a major impact on bringing about change, but they are sometimes ineffective because they are based mostly on emotional energy with limited information to support their efficacy.  The credibility of a movement is enhanced by pertinent facts and rigorous analysis, and this thoughtful approach gives people additional opportunities to research the value of the movement they intend to support. 

Another important consideration is to share critical thinking insights with less-advantaged and less-educated citizens so they have opportunities to develop the thoughtful skills and strategies that are needed to become thoughtful, independent citizens.  Those who share should not indoctrinate others with their content ideology or biased views.  Instead, they should focus on higher-level thinking processes that others can learn to apply independently to current issues that affect their lives.      

Critical thinking must be valued as a major part of worldwide literacy.  As people learn to think deeply and reflectively and to agree or disagree with civility, they develop a secure foundation for supporting free speech and for negating the hostile rhetoric that permeates different cultures and threatens their freedom.  With no naïveté intended, this vitally important perspective is necessary for the survival of free thought and a better world.

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Joseph Sanacore is a journalist, educational researcher, and author of more than 100 articles.  His most recent book is Teaching Critical Thinking in the Context of Political Rhetoric (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).  Anthony Palumbo is a historical researcher, essayist, and novelist.  

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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