Critical Thinking, Culture, and Formal Education

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I keep on hearing how it is critical thinking culture in America has deteriorated. How it is children in Elementary School through College are lagging with respect to critical thinking and creativity skills. Most articles that belate deterioration of critical thinking and creativity skills blame the formal educational system for not emphasizing development of said skills. I have made a case somewhere that it is an exercise in negligence for parents to assume all of their children’s educational development has to occur within classrooms and in context of school assignments.

Parents cannot abandon all of the development of their children’s critical thinking and creativity skills to overwhelmed school teachers.

Somehow, most of the articles on dearth of critical thinking skills, or dearth of creativity skills neglect to discuss effects of the current culture within which we live.

So then, by the way, exactly what kinds of non-fiction books tend to sell the most nowadays? For the most part, not the ones who stimulate their readers towards critical thinking. Not the books that ask tough questions. If a book asking tough questions sells, typically it sells only because the writer already is well known, popular, has a catchment audience.

Sometimes books which seemingly ask tough questions are nothing but political polemics written for non-experts in a subject. On perusal of such books by an expert, the books are nothing more than attempts at riling up people using logic that at best is suspect, at worst political, as opposed to objectively analytical.

In today’s culture, people actually prefer books and posts filled with arrogant ‘I am going to tell you exactly what you need to do’ sort of rhetoric over those prodding them to think through and provide self thought out answers to tough questions.

I know things are starting to change, but there still is a long way to go.

Nowadays, novels have devolved into mere plot twists, no subliminal message. Novels have become merely entertainment, not entertaining approaches to discussions of social, moral, political, or spiritual make ups of a society.

Consider the novel, Animal Farm. What exactly is Animal Farm, but a sociopolitical commentary? Huckleberry Finn is the story of a young white boy who was willing to go to hell — if it lay within the power of society — than turn in a black slave who had run away from his master. Persuasion tells of how an Aunt who was deemed harsh when she forbade her niece to marry a young brash man turned out wise when that man came back from his journeys more matured, a better husband for the same woman. The Invincible Man is a cautionary tale for those who believe having some advantage in society provides them the right to do whatever it is they want.

In Jane Eyre, a man whose wife had gone certifiably insane, but whom he was taking care of financially could not marry another woman because it contravened religious ordinances. How exactly does a man obtain a divorce from a certifiably insane wife — a woman certified insane by her lack of capacity for functioning in context of society? But then the wife died in a fire, and all was well. Someone who loved that man set fire to his castle while his love interest was away. That way, his love interest could be above suspicion for arson.

In the Scarlet Letter, we see how a pastor destroyed himself keeping up appearances about his imperfection, with the imperfection becoming sin only because of his hypocrisy, and how a woman supposedly scorned by society in a social sense was made financially well off by same society. This socially shunned woman felt so comfortable in same society, she escorted her daughter away to a foreign land upon marriage, then returned to same society to spend the rest of her life.

I could go on and on, but the substance of the matter is clear, most of the greatest novels retain subliminal social, political, moral, or spiritual messages in context of interesting story telling. If there was romance, it was not just about some chase and plot twists, biceps and abs typically were absent, there always was a subliminal.

I am not saying only the best produced by society is deserving of celebration. But when a society celebrates that which is not creative or critically constructed, and scorns that which is creative and critically constructed, it cannot at same time create a society within which creativity and critical thinking are celebrated.

Written by

Educator and Researcher, Believer in Spirituality, Life is serious business, but we all are pilgrims so I write about important stuff with empathy and ethos

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