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Essential Thinking

by Lynsie Monroe

If I could offer our children and young people one piece of advice to tackle global issues for a better world, critical thinking would be it.

There have been lots of recent opportunities to challenge our learners to think critically: Do you see a statue of a slave trader being brought down to justice or a group of thugs brought up to communicate through vandalism?

Do you see overpaid football players or committed athletes with salaries that make a substantial contribution to the UK economy?

Do you see these questions as opportunities for intellectual growth or as an attack on your preconceived perspective of the world?

These days, through technology, information imposes itself on us. 24/7 it arrives at our fingertips, an unceasing scroll of facts, figures, stories, photos, memes, adverts, comments, hashtags.

This continuous stream can take control of our thought process and play puppeteer to our decision-making.

We’re entering dangerous territory if we allow our children and young people to take what they see and hear as read and use it to inform their decisions without first questioning, discussing, debating its accuracy and efficacy.

Thoughtful choices

We want our children and young people to make responsible, rational, and thoughtful choices via a consistent critical thinking process that won’t be solely influenced by where they read, heard or saw something, or by who wrote or said it.

It is the job then of educators, to equip learners with both the knowledge and skills to think critically, to question and evaluate all that the modern world throws at them. School, whatever form it may take, should be a place where learners are taught to organise, apply and discuss ideas and information across a variety of contexts.

Most importantly for me, and considering recent global challenges, within those discussions should be the deliberate and explicit modelling by the adult on how to temporarily leave one’s model of the world behind and step into that of another – to listen. Only then can insightful ideas begin to take shape and genuine change happen.

We need approaches fit for the here and now. We can’t use traditional pedagogy or curriculum content to cover 21st century issues. As adults, future generations will need to grapple with divisive questions far more complex than those found on a fill-in-the-blank worksheet or multiple-choice quiz.

Careful preparation

It is understandable that some teachers don’t feel comfortable leading in-depth discussions around society’s myriad of conflicting ideologies – partly due to the fear of unintentionally imposing their own biases and thereby potentially exacerbating volatile situations – but as educators we have got to confront that discomfort and plan for it through careful preparation and well-balanced presentation.

Being able to evaluate your own ability to discuss current affairs and issues affecting the world is a crucial piece of self-reflection which all educators should embrace.

Training programmes should prepare teachers to deconstruct contentious ideas in an informed, considerate manner and facilitate discussion in an inclusive and non-threatening fashion.

Supporting future citizens in becoming happy, effective members of society is one of a teacher’s fundamental duties. It takes courage to set aside the worry of exposing oneself to criticism and to embrace the opportunities for growth the classroom presents through purposeful discourse and healthy debate.

The question is whether teachers will be empowered to address contentious issues and to equip our children and young people with the skills needed to carry out essential thinking on topics that truly matter.

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