Learning to think critically
Someone asked me recently what my favourite age to teach is. My experiences of teaching different age groups have been in quite different contexts, but my favourite teaching years were while I was teaching Year 3 and 4s. My main reason for enjoying this was the development that occurs at that age in children’s ability to think critically about issues and ideas.
Critical thinking is not the ability to be critical or negative. Rather, it is the ability to look at ideas, issues and information from a variety of angles and view points, using multiple sources of information, and then weighing things up against values and intuition to develop informed opinions and make well thought out decisions.
I always find it amazing when you read that stoats were introduced in New Zealand to help fix the rabbit problem, and other problem solving tasks that didn’t quite go to plan. I often wonder how critically these people thought through the solution to the problem, and how on earth they managed to get it so wrong. Edward de Bono’s thinking hats (Information here) could really have helped them out!
I once had a fascinating discussion with my class about whether or not Jesus actually wanted to die on the cross. It was interesting to watch as children grappled with verses such as “take this cup from me… but if it is your will..” along with John 3:16 and other verses of God’s great love for us. I sat in awe as these children debated in such a healthy and sincere way, looking in multiple parts of the Bible and linking this with what they knew about Jesus already in order to form their views. I think in many ways it gave them a greater appreciation for the love Jesus has for them, grappling with the idea that it might not have been His ideal way to spend the afternoon, but that He chose to do this for them anyway.
A great Christian educator in Australia, Rev Bob Frisken, teaches that we should never be afraid to let children examine ideas or issues if they are seeking truth, because we have a big God that is truth, and if they are seeking truth they will find God.
I encourage you to discuss age-appropriate issues and ideas with your children. Help them to examine these from different angles and find a variety of sources of information to support and challenge. Look at different verses in the Bible that can be related to an issue and help your child examine the principles of truth that could help them to weigh other information up against their values.
As we teach children these processes in a safe environment, we are giving them the tools to think critically for themselves as the grow older. I believe that the skills to think critically are crucial in the ever increasingly information rich world that we live in. If we don’t learn to think critically we can be tossed and thrown by every popular thought that comes and goes. Having the ability to think critically gives people the power therefore to stand up and make a difference.