Are We Silencing Critical Thinking?

Teacher with StudentsAre we silencing critical thinking in our classrooms? Critical thinking enables us to think deeply about something, using our brains to peel back the layers of what’s in front of us. Critical thinking affords us the opportunity to imagine what it is we might not be seeing, hearing, or considering in what we are experiencing at the moment.  Critical thinking keeps us curious and wondering. Curiosity is innate in our students. They become curious and then excited about the thing that intrigues them. How did we go from encouraging wonder, excitement, and appreciation for what is yet to be discovered in our children to suggesting it’s better to just not “think” or ask “why?”   

We see an increasing number of arguments and policies being enacted to shut down and shut out the voices and lived experiences of some students. An alarm should be sounding in all of us!  Not only for the students whose voices are being diminished but also for the students who may never get the opportunity to become curious about their fellow students and their lived experiences. Those students not only will be missing out on the richness of those who sit beside them, but they will lack the ability to critically think about the education they are receiving. This is not the direction we should be heading in our society.

There is increasing evidence that we are not critically thinking about the information that is presented to us.  Instead, most information is received as truth without evidence. In many cases, we are not challenging the motives behind the arguments and actions that are being put forth for the supposed greater good of the community, students, and families.  We have a problem when we are no longer outraged or even a bit curious about the attempts to silence and hide the cultures of others in our education system. What could possibly be the reason for this? Some call it the bandwagon effect, herd behavior, groupthink, or simply following the crowd and following what’s popular. The “bandwagon” effect creates pressure on us to act or think in a way that eventually results in behaviors, such as complacency, which eventually becomes an accepted norm–especially if it’s in the media. Remember, behind every behavior, there is a feeling. A feeling that speaks to fear, desperation, and/or inferiority. 

Student on LaptopFor example, what might one lawmaker have been feeling when they encouraged parents to contact a special hotline to report any “inherently divisive curriculum?”  

We should critically consider what’s not being said (feelings).  A critical thinker might find this curious and powerfully interpret this act to mean that for most Black and Brown parents, there should be a mad dash to this hotline to report years of “inherently divisive curriculum” that their children have been subjected to.  These parents could argue that the current day curriculum has and continues to cause disenfranchisement and alienation for their children.  I’m absolutely sure this wasn’t the intention of that hotline, but if we were to critically consider the “why” it would become abundantly clear that “thinking” is necessary and “critically thinking” can be powerful.    

Let’s make it our business to ensure that critical thinking remains an inherent part of education.  As educators, our role is to foster and facilitate the process of intellectual discipline, integrity, creativity, empathy, freedom, agency, and citizenship, of our students.  Research suggests: It is urgent that education offers students the opportunity to develop skills, abilities, and capabilities, as well as values associated with critical thinking and application to life outside the classroom. Remember, our students are the future workforce, businesspeople, governors, senators, and parents.  We must position our students to be prepared for these ongoing challenges and responsibilities.  Let’s teach our students how to be leaders, not followers.

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