Critical Thinking: The Other National Deficit


Yesterday, someone messaged a meme to my inbox on Facebook and without even questioning it, I reposted and retweeted!

Shortly thereafter, someone responded with a calling my meme an urban myth. I have been a writer, researcher and journalist in some capacity since I was a young child. So, it is very rare that I don’t research something that is sent to me before I pass it on.

But this time, I allowed my critical thinking muscle to remain asleep and posted without question. There were a few demands that I apologize or retract but I did not because in the world of instant social messaging, these things will happen and it’s not like I’m CBS or CNN. I mean they rarely retract even if their message error reaches millions!

But, for some reason, this little incident got me to thinking about how so many of us in American society have lost the Art of Critical Thinking; especially in these trying and uneasy times, and particularly with our oh, so social lives.

Think about it!  We don’t even log into Facebook anymore, it just stays open!  But every single day, we immediately begin going through our “friends” updated status posts; deleting, responding or ignoring.  We check our Twitter to see what’s been tweeted and if we like it we retweet.  We go to our Linkedin page to get the latest business trends; Pinterest and Instagram to see the new pics and suggested boards to repin, take a look to see what our favorite bloggers have to say and make sure that our email backlog hasn’t grown too much.

We are certainly a Social Networked Nation. But, for the most part, we are socializing, twitting, facing, linking up, listening to and being influence by virtual strangers that we have placed enough trust in to believe what they post.  Never mind that we have never met said “friend” face-to-face” or had as much as a personal phone call.  And I would like to think that this behavior is strange except it’s not anymore.  It has become the “new normal.”

But, I’m not complaining!  I have made fast and true friends via Social Media.  I have cried with, prayed for and celebrated along with dozens and dozens of my “friends.”  I have confided in, railed against and even “blocked” others.  I have made good “friends” and lost them over something I said in a post.  I have made bad “friends” that I have lost immediately.  There are even quite a few people with whom I have remained “social” with since I initiated Social Media back in 1993.

Back then, it was chat rooms on AOL.  That was when the internet was purely dial up and you were charged by the hour for your time in chat rooms as well as by the phone company . I remember running up a $600 phone bill from hanging out chatting and playing online games from six one evening until 6 the next morning. That bill broke that habit once and for all.

My next venture was to a site call Ryze.  It really was the predecessor of Facebook because it was the first site where you could chat and instant message on a board that others could see.  I joined that site back in 2004, prior to George W. Bush’s first election.  It was a rousing time politically and conservatives and liberals did battle.  It was truly a fun time and I met many friends that I have remained connected with even as we transferred our online lives over to Facebook in 2008.  So, having meaningful and long term online relationships are nothing new to me having been involved in Social Media for the last 20 years.  So much for history back to the purpose of this blog post.

Social Media has turned us all into news sources.  In fact, we are becoming a nation of reporters.  Our need to have instantaneous reports has led to a surplus of information; some good and some not so good.

In order to fight against rumors, hearsay and gossip, some have managed to create websites that debunk erroneous transmissions, while still other sites have popped up to debunk the debunkers!

At the end of the day, we no longer have to research because we can Google and Wiki our way to the truth. We don’t have to parse between what is right and what is wrong because others are doing our thinking for us. We need only to decide what it is we want to hear and most likely someone, somewhere on the internet has said it the way we like it.  And we will accept it and pass it on as if it’s the truth.

I would love to believe that only I have made this mistake but unfortunately, we all do it at one time or another!  I have found myself debunking the posts, blogs and updates of many people over the past 20 years as I’m sure you have.

Usually if I see a few friends posting about something, I find interesting, I will click to see what’s up. Frankly, Facebook is now my major source for news and updates, then I will Google for verification.  I’m not big on sharing information that has not passed the smell test. But, occasionally, someone that I “trust” will send me a blurb and without hesitation, I just pass it along.

In 1987, at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Michael Scriven & Richard Paul defined critical thinking as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

So, in short, there are five essential traits that define a critical thinker:

  1. Critical thinkers break arguments into basic statements and draw logical implications.
  2.  Critical thinkers locate ambiguity and vagueness in arguments and propositions.
  3. Critical thinkers determine if the premises are reasonable and identify information that has been omitted or not collected.
  4. Critical thinkers determine if the premises support the conclusion.
  5. Critical thinkers weigh the evidence and arguments.  Contradictions and lack of evidence decrease the weight of an argument.

So, I have determined that 80% of the time, I am a Critical Thinker.  My goal is to be one all of the time!