Critical Thinking: Essential at school?

Fake news and falsehoods spread throughout social media may impact and possibly change the course of various elections, of a country or of the whole world if that country is considerably powerful and influential.

This conclusion may be seen as exaggerated, but it is becoming more present in the forefront of the minds of lots of people, especially on the heels of the last presidential elections in the USA and the insight of its secret services about how Russia could have meddled into them.

As citizens, we must be well aware of the impact caused by the circulation of news that we don’t know well or that we don’t worry to know well about. Pursuant to a study by the University of Columbia and the French National Institute, 59% of the news shared on the Internet has not even been read. Such sad statistics result largely from the power of a “good headline” in times of massive information and news. Let’s understand a “good headline” not one that summarizes the core of the news in one sentence, but the one able to catch the attention of the audience, no matter what.

We are living in demanding times that require commitment and prudence, and if we want to look to the future with optimism, we must teach children Critical Thinking…”

An example of this is the experiment carried out by the magazine, which in their Facebook page published a news piece titled Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore? In reality, this article was not based on any news; however, more than 5.4 million followers in social networks commented thoroughly on it.

A similar experiment was fulfilled by, a science popularization magazine, which published a fake article titled Marijuana Contains Alien DNA’ From Outside Of Our Solar System, NASA Confirms. So far, this article has been shared more than 149,000 times and commented largely too, when, in truth, it really explains how Internet users share and comment on news without reading it first.

While unread and sometimes even unverified news is shared massively, citizen’s trust in institutions, politicians and media steadily declines and the trend of giving more credibility to comments coming from other users who we think are similar to us increases. The necessity of a prudence principle seems more clear than ever, although so far social media networks appear to skimp on it.

The increasing distrust in the institutions is also leading to the rise of many groups demanding greater citizen participation for common decisions in order to exercise greater control on these institutions. However, such participation requires a responsibility about which we are not conscious as a society. A responsibility that becomes diluted within the community and for which it seems we are not prepared for as of yet.

We are living in demanding times that require commitment and prudence, and if we want to look to the future with optimism, we must teach children Critical Thinking, the competence of knowing how to judiciously manage information handled every day. Developing students’ reading comprehension is essential but not sufficient.

Imparting Critical Thinking implies teaching students to develop their own criteria, and therefore, empowering them to make their own decisions. It also implies training students not to take for granted opinions or claims without thoroughly analyzing them with discretion. This remains a significant challenge for the majority of the educational systems around the world, which still relies on educators as the unquestionable source of knowledge and judgement.

In the end, the circle always returns to the same principle: to grow and progress as a society, prepared citizens are needed, and this is only possible by supporting a more committed and agile education system which adapts to new societies and the rapid changes going on.

For more information on Education and Critical Thinking, please visit Critical Thinking: Educating Competent Citizens.

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