This post begins a series in which my son Ben, a high-school student, reports on his efforts to train himself to become a better critical thinker.
Trapped within the confines of my house waiting for the pandemic to run its course, it feels like time (for the first time in my life) is standing still. And in a stand-still, people are left to their own devices. For most, they’re trapped with the same three or four people all day.
As a family, we have made an effort to shake up the routine, do different things, get outside. But the reality of this situation is pretty much a real-life version of a TV “bottle episode”: trapped in terms of physical space, halted in terms of productivity, and over-exposed in terms of personal relationships. So over the next few months, by virtue of circumstances, I’m going to try to do something productive: learn to become a better critical thinker.
Most schools, including the Massachusetts independent school I attend, are trying to do what they can with online classes in order to push through to the finish line with something to show for the school year. Even with classes every day, I still have an unprecedented amount of free time, so besides binge-watching Arrested Development, I’m also going to test drive my Dad’s program that’s supposed to help anyone think more critically.
Classes I’ve taken at school have touched on some of the subjects I’ll be learning about, such as argumentation, so I already know the importance of identifying fallacies, appealing to the things the person you’re debating with care about, and listening to their arguments in good faith. But I’m eager to learn about argumentation more systematically so I can apply it at school, to my interactions with friends, and with the family I’m housebound with.
Having started my Dad’s new book, I’m familiar with the origins of critical thinking, including how it relates to philosophy, science and psychology. I’m also familiar with ways we tend to think naturally (which is often not great) and methods for thinking more systematically which can help when our biases might get in the way or rhetoric is being used to confuse us.
You can join me on a journey that will involve learning about biases, logic, argumentation, rhetoric and other skills needed to become a critical thinker. Every two weeks, I’ll be reading material such as chapters from Critical Thinking Essentials, Critical Voter and postings on LogicCheck, as well as having discussions with the person who wrote all three (my Dad). This independent way of learning will be an interesting contrast to the more “normal” way I’m taught at school, and I hope my experience will show people how much they can learn on their own.
Step-by-step, I’ll be learning the components of critical thinking, and you can too. So stop by this blog every other Friday to learn what I’m learning so you can become a critical thinker yourself.