What does it mean to really think?

Maksim Rammstein

The purpose of education might seem obvious. People gather to learn, but what does that mean in practice? Educators will agree that the accumulation of knowledge is more than the simple downloading of facts.

The world is becoming increasingly complex and beyond the simple binary of “fake news,” information from all sectors needs to be (at the very least), questioned.

These issues extend beyond the classroom. How can we expect young people to make informed choices about future study or employment if they lack the ability to examine an issue from all angles?

Students of all ages should be taught to think critically, rather than simply memorize arguments. But what is the difference, and how do we foster the former skill?

More advocates moving students beyond asking “what” and encouraging them to ask “why” and “how.”

Like the example of climate change. Asking students “what are the main causes of climate change?” can be answered with a quick web search. He suggests questions like: “How does X cause climate change?” or “How will climate change impact where we live?” or “Why should our city care about climate change?”

Students should then be asked to support their points. This should not be framed as an intellectual attack, but students should get into the habit of offering evidence to support their opinions from an early age.

By the time they reach university, the habit should be ingrained. This will necessitate a discussion of what constitutes appropriate evidence. Web links are to be questioned. Reasoning supported by the scientific method is another skill to foster.

Understanding why material printed in peer-reviewed books and articles is superior to material published online is vital. However such conversations are fostered; students need to reflect on what constitutes “evidence.”

Introducing another perspective is useful. Staying with the example of climate change, ask students to research and think about how people in other locations might face the problem. Consider differences and similarities. Think about the global and local aspects of the topic. Students can then be asked to solve the problem under discussion.

This request should be specific. Asking students to “solve” the problem of climate change is intimidatingly broad, but asking “how can we address X and solve this as a cause of climate change?” should get them thinking.

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