What is science? It is not a trivial question, and may well be one that gets asked on the first day of class. The question has many wonderful answers, I particularly like Carl Sagan’s answer, “Science is a way of thinking, much more than it is a body of knowledge.” That type of thinking is known as critical thinking. Critical thinking is the tool used for what Carl Sagan called “Baloney Detection“. To detect baloney, is to discriminate between science and pseudoscience, fact and fiction, true and false claims. In the Baloney Detection Toolkit there are a variety of tools which can be used. Michael Shermer suggests asking 10 questions when dealing with a claim. It is very important to be able to detect any fallacies in logic and rhetoric, here is a helpful list of commonly used fallacies to look out for, they are surprisingly common during an election cycle.
Below is a great primer for explaining what critical thinking is,
TechNyou has also created a series highly engaging series of short videos teaching kids the basics of critical thinking. While they are aimed at teenagers, they contain solid information for sorting fact from fiction that is accessible to anyone, check them out (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).
The above video mentions that critical thinking cultivates Curiosity and eagerness to widen perspective and broaden knowledge. So the important question for educators is how to cultivate critical thinking in students. Critical thinking goes hand in hand with asking questions. A great thought on this came from Maria Montessori’s philosophy, “Kids don’t stop asking questions because they lose interest. It’s the other way around — they lose interest because they stop asking questions.” It is important that the education continues to foster and encourage students to ask questions.
Science necessitates a certain comfort with being wrong, and a tolerance for the fear of failure. Cultivating that capacity in students is an essential prerequisite not only for science but also for the basic appreciation of science. I sometimes wonder if the current direction of education, which a recent Globe and Mail article described as where “some shiny new idea comes along – self-esteem! prizes for all! multiple learning styles! – that is supposed to turn every failing kid into a winner“, has resulted in such an unfamiliarity with failure, that the necessity of science (being wrong, and often failing) is not present in upcoming students. I think this unfamiliarity is to their detriment, and may result in them dropping out of sciences and prevent them from further pursuing sciences. So to summarize, critical thinking is good and it should be ingrained into students and persons of all ages, but don’t just believe me, exercise your own critical thinking and look into it for yourself.
- 7 Steps to Improving Your Critical Thinking (wisebread.com)
- Why Critical Thinking Is Important (ethicalrealism.wordpress.com)
- Take the New York Times Critical Thinking Challenge (critical-thinkers.com)