Re-thinking Critical Thinking


Yesterday I was reading comments posted online about a news paper article.  It was amazing to see how negative people were.  Not just to the author but to the other people making comments.  They were vicious and nasty and insulting.

Every year my friend Todd tells his high school students, “it is easier to be negative than to be positive.”  He illustrates how it is easier to tear someone down than to build them up.  It is easier to laugh at someone taking a risk, and explain why they can’t, than to support that person, and come up with reasons why they can.  It is easier to find fault with an idea than to uncover its merits.

Critical thinking is a skill we teach and value in schools.  The idea that students should think for themselves is a good one, but I fear the word “critical” in critical thinking gets too much emphasis.  Critical thinking should involve looking at both the positives and the negatives but often students learn that looking for weak spots in an argument and expressing adverse judgments, is easier than looking for the positive aspects and building a case for the strong points.

Consider the following headlines:

  • “Founder of new religion in town to recruit new followers”
  • “House and Senate to consider new health care plan”
  • “School sports team fund raises by selling lost and found items”

Is your first reaction to these stories to consider the merits and teachings of this new religion, the positive impacts of the new health care plan, and the upside of creative school fundraising?  Or would it is be easier to begin building arguments against each?  I am not saying we should never be critical or negative I am just questioning where we should begin!

I fear that too often we are quicker to condemn than commend, disparage than encourage, insult than compliment, malign than tribute, slander than salute, humiliate than honor.

Todd’s students become aware and understand this tendency in themselves and can choose to think in a different way.  They can begin with a positive mindset first, and then consider the downside.  Too bad the commenters online never had a teacher like Todd.

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  1. Critical thinking is a skill we teach and value in schools. lOOK …!!!PERHAPS YOU ARE FULL OF GOODWILL BUT SCHOOL IS NOT THE PLACE :Critical thinking is a skill we teach and value in schools…nO no no LOOK AT THE RESULT !! IF REALLY THE TEACHER AT UNIVERSITIES WERE LISTENING TO THE TENDER HEART OF SO MANY STUDENTS (SO THIRSTY OF JUSTICE AND WHAT NOT)FEELING THAT THE WORLD THE WAY WE RUN IT IS TO CRUEL AND ANIMAL DO YOU YOU THINK THAT OFFSHORE DRILLING WOULD BE SO POPULAR ? dO YOU THINK THAT ENGINEERING WOULD HAve BEen SO DISATROUS… BE POSITIVE THINK YOU CAN QUESTION AUTHORITY YOU DONT NEED TO BE RUDE … OK BE SWEET INSTEAD BUT DONT LIE TO YOURSELF OK?

    • Thank you. I don’t think I could have asked for a better comment on this blog post. I rest my case.

    • I (State Your Name)
    • May 13th, 2010

    Hi Tim,

    I almost wonder if the hyper-negativity is really an extension of the egotism that seems (to me) to be so prevalent these days. I have encountered a lot of people that seem to be really rigid in their belief that their point of view on a given subject is the only correct one, and everyone who does not agree with them must be an idiot (or even a bad person).

    I think that when people don’t have answers to complex issues themselves, there is a tendency to assume that there is NO answer, and so they knock down any suggestion that comes along.

    But then again, maybe I am just being too critical of people who are simply very confident in themselves and in their opinions. 🙂

    • Great comment! It is fun to be critical of being critical! Ha! I think you are right that there is an element of egoism involved. When somebody plants their flag on anything from politics, to religion, to sports teams, then an attack on that thing or idea becomes an attack on them. Think about it this way, if I say, “I am an artist” “I am a environmentalist”, I am a (insert religion here)” “I am a democrat/republican” “I am a (insert sports team here) fan” all of these statements are a reflection of my identity and my ego.

      Because I have attached my identity to these things, ff someone attacks any one of them then it is an attack on me. This is why we do not like to hear apposing view points and why we have a tendency to lash out. But again, if we are aware of this tendency n ourselves and in others, maybe we can moderate our reactions.

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