Critical Thinking does not seem to be a stand-alone concept that can be taught separately, but rather a set of habits of mind that emerge from a cluster of concepts, including cognitive distortions, algorithms, scientific method, formal logic, risk analysis, complexity theory, game theory, and linguistic distortions. Media Literacy is a specific type of Critical Thinking.
Embedded in the key assumptions of the PostPandemic Curriculum Project is the reality that humans do not naturally perceive accurately or correctly interpret the world around us. Millions of years of natural selection have resulted in our ability to get close enough to reality to help us (and our children) survive in pre-technological small group gatherer/hunter societies. Neither our brains nor our senses equip us to handle the challenges found in a world of mega-cities, toxic chemicals, con artists, and social media. As a result, our intuition leads us to see danger where there is none and to be oblivious to serious threats to our survival.
Successful Critical Thinking arises when three factors converge with a willingness to take the time and energy to think about an issue:
- an awareness of the fallibility and bias of human intuition,
- a basic understanding of the concepts (and related language) underlying the issue, and
- a set of tools to support organized thinking.
(Once the factors necessary for Critical Thinking are in place, there are a number of formal techniques to structure thinking about complex issues, including Integrative Thinking, Paul/Elder framework (pdf download), Design Thinking, Computational Thinking, and Lateral Thinking. Some others are described in the OECD publication “Fostering Student’s Creativity and Critical Thinking”.)
A goal of the PostPandemic Curriculum Project is to identify the concepts that are needed to properly support each of these factors to enhance the ability of citizens to think clearly, creatively, and critically about public policy options.
At the core of Critical Thinking is the awareness of the distortions and biases inherent in of our “fast” easy intuitive thinking described by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and a practiced ability to engage in effortful “slow” reflective thinking.
Media Literacy is simply Critical Thinking applied to things that we read and see.