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 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.
Critical Thinking is the habit of mind committed to challenging potentially plausible ideas and conclusions with the goal of better aligning understanding and intuition of the world with the reality of the world.
It is not a stand-alone skill, like writing a haiku or a dunking a basketball. Rather Critical Thinking seems to be more like an emergent property that arises when three factors converge with a person’s willingness to take the time and energy to investigate an issue:
- an awareness of the fallibility of human intuition (the many distortions and biases inherent in of our “fast” easy intuitive thinking are outlined by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking, Fast and Slow”)
- a basic understanding of the concepts (and related language) underlying the issue, and
- a robust set of formal tools to support organized thinking.which include, but goes beyond, formal logic analysis.
Once the factors necessary for Critical Thinking are in place, there are a number of formal techniques that help 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”. While these techniques can be taught in isolation, on their own they are inadequate to support Critical Thinking.
A goal of the PostPandemic Curriculum Project is to identify the concepts that are needed to properly support each of the factors needed for successful Critical Thinking, with the ultimate goal of increasing the ability of citizens to think clearly, creatively, and critically about public policy options.
Media Literacy is simply Critical Thinking applied to things that we read and see.