I wasn’t exposed to the concept of “critical thinking” until I was in my second year of college.
Up until that point, I had only ever experienced “rote-learning”, where the teacher only relies on memorization and repetition to beat the information into the student’s head.
I first experienced critical thinking through my Philosophy professor, who introduced me to Plato and the Socratic method.
The Socratic method involves asking a series of questions to help the student or listener come to the answer on their own. The student can also ask questions to the teacher for further clarification.
At the heart of the Socratic method is open-mindedness. There is no “opponent” that you are debating and your goal is not to probe or agitate. You merely ask inquiring questions like, “Could you explain that point further?” or “Can you provide a sample/evidence that supports your viewpoint?”
I am incredibly thankful for my philosophy professor (Philosophy 101 was originally a throwaway class I was taking for the extra credits!). I remember being stunned by Socrates’ idea.
“Holy crap, this is a completely new way to think!” I told myself. “Why am I just now learning about this?”
Unfortunately, rote learning is still alive and well in many schools today. I suppose I was lucky that I accidentally studied under the only teacher in Louisiana that realized the importance of critical thinking.
If you haven’t realized by now, I believe critical thinking is incredibly important for students to learn, and the sooner the better.
This article will try to do three things: define what critical thinking is, identify the lack of critical thinking in schools, and finally provide solutions that you as a parent can implement with your own children.
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Schools Aren’t Actually Teaching Critical Thinking
The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines the term as follows:
Before I go deep into critical thinking, I should first say that I do believe rote-learning does have its place.
There isn’t a need to think critically about crossing the street into oncoming traffic, for example. You will gain no benefit from looking at it “from a different point of view.”
You tell your boy that if he crosses the street when cars are coming, he will be smashed into something resembling glue paste. The boy nods his head, and that’s the end of that. Job done.
However, for more complex scenarios, this type of lower-order, reptile-brain thinking doesn’t cut it.
The majority of people wouldn’t know that, however, because they were never taught critical thinking skills in the first place, either in school or at home.
In an article by Pamela Li from ParentingforBrain.com, she explains that people who are not used to critical thinking are easily influenced, especially by mass media. The decisions they make are usually simplistic and based on emotion rather than logic and reasoning. Quite different from the definition given above.
What is alarming is that according to the book Academically Adrift by Richard Arum, 75 percent of employers state that many of the students they hire lack basic critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems, even after more than a decade of formal education.
It is very concerning to me that leaders of companies want their employees to be able to think critically, yet students are not being taught how to think critically in primary or secondary school.
Isn’t school the very place that should prepare them for the working world?
A survey from the Foundation for Critical Thinking reported even more bad news. According to this study, there are three problems in academia related to teaching students critical thinking:
- College professors do not have a solid concept of what critical thinking is, much less how to teach it.
- These same professors believe they have a solid concept of what critical thinking is and believe they are teaching it to students.
- Rote-memorization and lecture-style classes lacking any kind of critical thinking components are still the norm in universities.
The study goes on to say that only 2 out of 10 educators were able to give an adequate definition of what critical thinking was and only 1 out of 10 educators were clearly implementing critical thinking techniques in their everyday classes.
Unless universities have drastically changed in the past 15+ years since I was a college student, I believe these findings to be true. I would say 95% of my university classes, minus my philosophy classes and a few others, were just lectures and memorization.
If not for my Philosophy class, where exactly was I supposed to learn to think critically?
Children could potentially learn critical thinking skills from their parents, but American parents are not fairing much better than university professors I’m afraid.
Parents Aren’t, or Can’t, Teach it Either
As a parent, why should you be concerned about your child’s ability to think critically?
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, it’s not taught in schools, so it can’t be that important, right?”
On the contrary, in today’s age, critical thinking skills couldn’t be more important.
I believe that information today has become too accessible. It’s so easy to just type an answer to a question and believe whatever answer is given by either Google or the teacher without a second thought.
Newsflash: not all information on the internet has been well-researched and well-vetted.
Everyday, we are being bombarded with information: some of it is true, some of it isn’t. Some of it is just some random person’s opinion.
Here at One-Room Education, for example, we make sure that all of our articles are research based and provide our resources so you can dig deeper into the topic if you would like and see where we are getting our information from; but very few places on the internet do this.
This could become a problem because if your child lacks critical thinking capabilities, they could be swept away in a never-ending stream of false information, opinions, and straight-up lies.
The good news is that the home is a great place for children to learn critical thinking skills, but parents have to be on top of that stuff and they have to stay on top of it.
Upon initial research, however, the news isn’t good.
The Reboot Foundation conducted an online study of over 1,000 people and discovered two things:
- Only 20 percent of parents regularly ask their child to take an opposing view.
- Only one-third of participants talk about complex issues with their child that don’t have a right or wrong answer.
The irony is that parents believe their children are learning about critical thinking in school!
What is crazy is that nearly 87 percent believe that the ability to consider an opposing viewpoint is “an important and useful exercise”.
This parallels what university professors think. They understand the importance of critical thinking in classroom teaching but they rarely implement it.
Also, when children want to ask the dreaded question “Why?” when they come across something they don’t understand, many parents fall back on the classic phrase, “Because I said so.”
Now again, phrases such as “Because I said so” have their place.
Suppose there is a zombie apocalypse and you need to get the heck out of dodge. There is no time for explanation and no time to answer the question “Why?” You just grab your child and go.
I’m being glib of course, but this type of reptilian-brain, lower-level thinking is great in situations where safety and health are a concern.
Unfortunately, many parents use commands such as “Listen to me!” and “Do as I say!” not when the situation calls for it, but because they are lazy and can’t be bothered.
This is to the child’s detriment.
According to this journal article published by Stanford University, it was discovered that children whose mothers used such direct control tactics (such as “Do as I say!”) did not perform as well in school-related activities as those whose mothers used a combination of direct and indirect tactics (indirect tactics included trusting and relying on the child to self-regulate when there was a problem).
Now let’s discuss some other indirect tactics that parents can use to instill critical thinking skills in their children.
Ways You Can Help Foster Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is not only essential for developing a child’s cognitive and problem-solving skills, but it also allows them to trust their own ideas and become more creative, which is something that is in short supply nowadays.
Here are some steps that you can start implementing right now to help develop your child’s critical thinking abilities.
Answer Those “Why” Questions
I get it. Being asked “Why” all the time can get annoying. Sometimes you want to hit the “off” button, and “Because I said so” is a great off button.
However, is it really a good idea to just “turn off” your child’s thinking? Not really.
Knowing “why” is a very important first step to critical thinking. Without knowing “why”, logical thinking cannot begin.
This is the reason your infant and toddler love to do something called “dropsies”. They drop their toy or cup or whatever and see what happens; then you pick it up and they see if they can recreate what happened the first time. This is a very important first step in understanding their world and being able to think critically about it, but can become very annoying very quickly.
Even at this early stage, when you explain things to your child, the wheels in their minds begin to turn and they can begin drawing their own conclusions based on your answer. In the future, they can be confident in the fact that they reach conclusions based on evidence and reasoning rather than peer pressure and blind beliefs.
Be warned, you might have to answer several “Why?” questions before they’re satisfied, but it will be better for your child in the long run.
Blind Obedience Is Not the Answer
When you ask your child to do something, take a few minutes to explain why you want them to do it. When you only say “Because I said so”, there’s no chance for your child to develop their deductive-reasoning skills.
I think many parents rely on “Because I said so” many times because they don’t want their own views challenged.
This is very ironic because being able to look at things from a different point-of-view is what critical thinking is all about.
Don’t shy away from your child asking you questions and be sure to allow discussion about the answer after you give it; at an age and developmentally appropriate level of course.
Teach Your Child to Be Open Minded
This last trick is a little more advanced. To truly get the motors going in your child’s head, approach them with a question or problem that has more than one point-of-view and ask them to think about it.
Unless the answer is definitive, such as in math or science, many problems have more than one solution. Give your child a problem with more than one solution and allow them to come up with the answer themselves. Help them along the way by answering questions when they hit a wall.
By the way, resist the urge to just give them the answer when they’re close. It’s better to ask them more questions to get their mind going in the right direction, and this can be done at any age.
Your child’s critical thinking might be one of the most important parts of their development. I’d like to believe that all parents want their child to do well in the world, yet many of them are reluctant to teach their children to think with reasoning or to be open-minded. I would argue that critical thinking is a necessary component to success, especially in this day and age.
What’s your opinion about the topic of critical thinking? Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below!
If you liked this article, please also check out my Falling Literacy Rates Series Part 1 and Part 2 here on One-Room Education.
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- Li, Pamela, et al. “Critical Thinking for Kids – Teaching Them How to Think, Not What to Think.” Parenting for Brain, 27 Sept. 2021,
- “The State of Critical Thinking in 2020 | REBOOT FOUNDATION.” REBOOT FOUNDATION | Promoting and Developing Critical Thinking Tools and Resources., 15 Oct. 2021.
- Hess, Robert D., and Teresa M. McDevitt. “Some Cognitive Consequences of Maternal Intervention Techniques: A Longitudinal Study.” Child Development, vol. 55, no. 6, 1984, pp. 2017–30. JSTOR.
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