The importance of developing critical thinking

Chris Ivey / Insights

Within a family we often don’t think about the value of these conversations, because it’s not so much about the topic, rather about engaging developing brains in critical thinking, something we categorically need to embed in our children’s toolkit for life!

31 July 2020

Dear St Andrew’s community

I’m not sure what it’s like in your home at the moment; however, dinner table conversations in our household are fairly dynamic as we chat about what’s happening with COVID cases, what sort of punishment should we inflict on our two shoppers who went to Victoria or how we could encourage people to be less selfish!

Of course, politics is always a hot topic for me because it’s something I’m a little passionate about.  Every day there is something interesting, particularly from the US.  Just this week, our family re-told stories on social media around Barack Obama claiming 2.1 billion dollars to spend on future holidays at the taxpayer’s expense and President Trump’s bold move to ask him to repay. As my wife read the post and our children began to comment, I was intrigued. How can anyone spend that much on holidays over the next 36 years? I could give it a go, but over $50M a year including  security…that would be a challenge.

So I asked, "Did you check the source? Is it credible?”  And then the conversation continued as we explored the thought that from everything we know about the leadership of Barack Obama, does this sound like the way in which he would act?  We discussed that most senior politicians in many developed countries have a huge and stressful job but actually don’t get paid anywhere near what the CEO of a big bank, Qantas, Telstra or BHP might earn, but at least in Australia we do provide them with travel and expenses post appointment in recognition of their service to their country. Is this the right thing to do or should we just pay our Prime Minister what the CEO of a major company would earn? Some leaders like Trump and here in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, actually take a hefty pay cut to enter politics.

For our family these are all dinnertime or ‘around the firepit’ conversations about what we read and how we discern what is true, what is false, what is fair, what is just and then, what do we do with that information?  Within a family we often don’t think about the value of these conversations, because it’s not so much about the topic, rather about engaging developing brains in critical thinking, something we categorically need to embed in our children’s toolkit for life!

Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. That means making sure our children don't turn into loud and vocal opinions based on memes, social media bites or a YouTube video. It also definitely means they don't spout only the exact opinions of what they hear from their parents or adhere to beliefs only to receive parental approval, something I know that I did when I was growing up.

We don't want our children to accept every argument that they hear, or conclusion that they read as valid. They need to explore information and viewpoints, ask questions and challenge answers, and then form their own conclusions. They then need to change those conclusions when more information is available to them. We want our next generation to become open-minded and informed so they can become problem-solvers instead of problem-creators.

Social media usually discourages critical thinking. It's easier to see a meme or post that aligns with your viewpoint instead of challenging yourself to dig deeper into a different opinion. Social media algorithms also act to reinforce previous things that have been read. Quite often, teenagers and yes, we adults too, can lose objectiveness and rational ability to digest information counter to previously held opinions. This often transfers over to being unable to receive constructive criticism.

Developing critical thinking skills includes both making your own decisions and listening to the arguments, criticisms, and data of others. It is so important to both teach and model open-mindedness as it enables us to grow as people.

The teenage years are a great time to have these types of discussions. There are moments that will most certainly challenge us as parents when we hear one of our children with a radical opinion, but I also know that it is just a stepping stone to them forming the ideals in which they will live their adult lives and it's both a safe place and a great opportunity to have an important conversation.

However, as parents we need to walk the walk. If I show my kids that I can be open-minded to ideas that are not like my own, ask questions, reflect and discuss, then perhaps they can go out into the world and do the same and that is certainly a win-win for us all.

If you’re stuck for a topic…just look at some of the weird and wonderful opinions floating out there!

Reverend Chris Ivey

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Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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