Are we losing our ability to think critically?

Are we losing our ability to think critically?

It’s a serious concern that has many of us concerned about the fact that society, in general, is losing its ability to think critically. This can be seen in topics from the discussion on guns to climate change and even healthcare. What if our society has been heading this way for years, but we haven’t noticed it because of its gradual impact?

Are we losing our ability to think critically?

It’s important to note that there is not a single cause for this epidemic; rather, it is a combination of factors coming together to make the situation worse than ever before.

It seems like a new study is released every few days with startling new information about the state of education and learning. Increasingly, it looks like we’re going to have to do something sooner rather than later. As educators and parents around the world, this is an issue that we need to be aware of and address while there is still time.

Schools are actively promoting “thinking skills” as an important part of their curriculum with many students being drilled on critical thinking skills in high school. The elementary school level may be developing these skills into an academic subject as they use it to test thinking ability (e.g., critical reasoning tests).

But is it possible that in the process of developing students to think critically that we may be badgering them into just memorizing material and repeating it back – just to please the teachers? In doing this, are we developing students that simply regurgitate information rather than develop the ability to think critically?

The evidence suggests that we are.

Critical Thinking: What is it, and what should we do?

It is no secret that schools are focused on teaching students to think critically and develop these skills. However, there may be a question of what thinking critically actually means. Asking yourself the following question might help.

What do you think critical thinking is? (It probably has something to do with analysis, evaluation, analysis. Maybe it’s just memorizing what you read, or watching a movie?)

If your definition of critical thinking is only one of a hundred things, then you should probably do some research on why critical thinking is important. Critical thinking is not necessarily the same as memorizing information; it is more related to asking questions about the contents of what we read, hear and watch.

How has technology affected critical thinking?

The Internet is a great tool for improving critical thinking skills. But with this great tool, there are positive and negative effects that may be affecting how we think. A few of the negative effects include:

1) We take everything for granted. This can cause us to lose our ability to evaluate what sources are reliable and which are not.

2) We become increasingly reliant on technology. If technology fails, then we may become helpless.

3) We may become less empathetic. Although there are many things that are right with the Internet, it can also cause us to take everything for granted. This brings about the dangers of just “checking out”, which is a more negative way of withdrawing from the world and leaving our impact on others behind.

4) We become increasingly self-absorbed. With all of this new technology, people are watching videos and news on their phones and computers in silence. This helps them avoid interaction with other humans.

How do we create critical thinkers?

Helping our children become and embrace critical thinkers will go a long way in the world right now in which people seem to trust what they see on the news. Also, it will encourage our children to seek out facts for themselves and make their own judgments about things rather than being dependent on what others say about them.

How can we help our children grow into critical thinkers? Here are a few easy steps you can take:

1) Start early. Schools want critical thinking to be part of their curriculum – if they don’t already have it. Although schools may not be able to give kids what they need, parents can provide the environment that the kids need in order to think critically.

2) Encourage questions. Once children can form questions, they may actually be ready to think critically about things that are going on all around them every day, including through television, movies and online sources.

3) Let the kids do the work. Rather than having teachers dictate what students are supposed to learn, let the children make up their own minds about what they should do.

4) Provide structure for thinking (brainstorming, debate and problem-solving). It is important to give children tools that allow them to think clearly and objectively about things. This includes giving them time to think over issues or concepts before letting them voice their thoughts aloud in class discussions or written assignments.

5) Practice. One of the best ways to teach kids how to think critically is to practice thinking critically. Offer them books and news sources to evaluate, then give them the freedom to ask questions and form their own opinions about what they are reading.

6) Accepting different viewpoints. Critical thinking can be stifled if we tend to make our children conform to specific ideas. Give them the tools they need in order to develop their own critical thinking skills, and let them go from there.

Critical thinking attitudes by different generations

When it comes to different generations and critical thinking you might be surprised by how this has changed over time. Let’s take a look at today’s most active generations:

Generation Z

According to Generation Z, the generation just after Millennials, their biggest concern is a lack of thinking skills and the ability to “think critically” – which may be why Millennials tend to be more likely to agree with Generation Z’s concerns. The difference between Millennials and Gen Z seems to relate more to focused focus on a cause rather than being consumed by it.

Here is some of what they are saying:

Children should not be expected to pay attention for lengthy periods of time without breaks.

We should prepare children for a world where they are bombarded with information. (Both generations agree that they take in too much information today.)

A mix of education and play is ideal. (Both generations agree that this helps kids think better and be creative.


Millenials are positive about critical thinking skills and are more likely to agree with Generation Z on its importance.

As they get older, they may be less inclined to act in a way that reflects their beliefs (e.g., voting) than other generations. They may also not be as concerned about the state of our world as other generations were about it when they were growing up.

Here is some of what they are saying:

Millenials feel like they have more freedom to think for themselves – less dependency on authority figures.

They are more flexible in their thinking and will try new solutions without having to wait for permission. (Generation Z seems to agree, but also wants their teachers to support them.)

They want a more vibrant, engaging environment that is not just a classroom setting but uses the real world as a learning tool in many different ways.

Generation X

Gen X ers are positive about critical thinking and are more likely to agree with Generation Z’s concerns.

They generally have a difficult time grasping new ideas and have trouble letting go of the old. This could be because they may have spent too much time in school or not as much time in play as other generations (e.g., Millennials). Their empirical reasoning skills may also be lacking.

Here is some of what they are saying:

They tend to feel like if they don’t take the right path then society will collapse. They may therefore feel the need to gain experience and power early in their lives.

They tend not to question authority, but they are not as focused on a cause – like Gen Z.

Students have a tendency to stop learning once they’ve figured out the right answer. They will do this regardless of whether or not they believe it is correct.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers tend to think that critical thinking is less important than other generations. (As a generation, Boomers are more likely to agree with Generation Z’s statements.)

They are more likely to take time off of school to pursue an interest – like Gen Xers. They may also have been taught critical thinking in school, but this has not influenced them in their adult lives as much as it has other generations.

Here is some of what they are saying:

They don’t see the need for learning how to think critically. It is important to note that people that were born earlier in the Boomer generation (over a 10-year span) are more likely to agree with Gen Z’s statements.

They feel like it is important for students to focus on stability, structure and order.

In some cases, they may not be able to articulate the reasons for their beliefs. Their ideas often revolve around “doing the right thing” rather than thinking critically.

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