Raising Critical Thinkers: A Parent’s Guide to Growing Wise Kids in the Digital Age
I was once asked whether a college course I was creating taught critical thinking. “It depends,” I said. “What’s your definition of critical thinking?”
It turned out that the university didn’t have a definition for critical thinking. So as I perused the university catalog, looking at all the courses that supposedly taught critical thinking, I realized—critical thinking at this university means whatever anyone wants it to mean.
That university, our country’s leading institutions, and most especially, you, need Julie Bogart’s book.
Raising Critical Thinkers gives tools of self-awareness that can help you and your children catch yourselves being controlled by invisible assumptions that thwart your ability to think clearly and rationally. These invisible assumptions are why seemingly objective scientists, no matter what data and conclusions they are presented with, can find their “objectivity” tumbling forth to support their preconceived biases. It is also why judges, politicians, managers—in fact, virtually everyone—can find it so difficult to step back and look with dispassion at their decision-making.
Neuroscience is beginning to give us a sense of where those invisible assumptions come from—your brain’s subconscious procedural learning system. This system detects and formulates patterns. Perhaps most important, it makes judgments. The judgments this system makes (technically, they’re called the output of the “value function”) sneakily intrude into what you truly believe—actually, you could swear—are transparently conscious, objective decisions.
Surfacing these kinds of invisible assumptions is almost supernaturally difficult. Perhaps that’s why, despite their importance, most books on critical thinking barely touch on preexisting biases. Instead, they’ll focus on issues such as honing your own argument—as opposed to, for example, being able to change your mind in the face of compelling reasoning. Or they’ll concentrate on methods for objectively evaluating data, without discussing how the mind can fool itself into justifying how objective data can be overruled. Too often, books about teaching our children to think critically focus on how to detect bias out there rather than helping them develop the skills to investigate their own.
Julie approaches critical thinking in an utterly novel way. Like a master poker player, she turns her gaze not only toward the cards being dealt but also inward to the body’s physical “tells” in reaction to those cards. You may not be able to directly detect the subconscious influence of the procedural system, but you can see its side effects. And these bodily reactions and thought patterns can serve as a guide for digging deeper and being more honest, both with those you are interacting with and yourself. It’s this self-awareness that supports you in guiding your children as well.
Is it possible to “train” your inevitably biased procedural system to be more open and less one-sided? Julie’s got you covered there, too. She recommends the heretical—reading outside your worldview. And indeed, this is precisely what neuroscience suggests. It’s a little like training an artificial intelligence program to play better chess by giving that program broader data to train with. And she gives guidance about how to make room for dissenting viewpoints—if anything, this book serves as a much-needed balm for the all-too-contentious social environment we find ourselves in today. Plus, this book is loaded with activities to try with your family, including thinking critically about subjects like grammar and picture books, video games and sports.
As Julie notes, “Knowing how to develop well-formed opinions in spite of prejudice and bias is one of the goals of education (and this book).” Read on for a wonderfully insightful guide to steering yourself, and the children you love, toward a life of considered, thoughtful insight.
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|February 14, 2022|
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