I believe that one of the most important skills that teachers can pass on to their students is the ability to think critically. Students must be armed with this skill so that they are able to combat the great number of irrational ideas, factual distortions and even outright lies that they are exposed to by the media, the internet, and other technological developments such as Face book or Twitter. Also, today, as in the past, people have been often exposed to a one-sided view of reality whether through history books, religion or political parties.
Sometimes the lie is a blatant denial of history – such as whether the Holocaust really happened. Another would be the denial that Americans reached the moon in the 1970’s. Then there is the refusal to accept evolution as a legitimate theory by many religious extremists and their equally ridiculous insistence on the coming Apocalypse, a date that keeps changing as world destruction dates come and go. Included also are all the other conspiracy theories too numerous to mention.
Students in all subjects must be instructed in the scientific method of inductive reasoning rather than simply assuming that their absolute beliefs are true and then applying these absolutes to every significant feature of life. They must be trained to debate and discuss rationally with their peers so that when they go into the outside world, they are capable of dealing with the overwhelming number of facts and ideas that impinge on their reality.
Everything must be open to examination if we are truly to become a literate and rational society. What makes it difficult to take a rational approach is the refusal of people who believe in absolutes to accept ideas that are contrary to their worldview. They create their own realities through their perceptions even if those perceptions are not a fair reflection of the world that actually exists. This is not necessarily always bad, but can be harmful if these people employ these beliefs to make important decisions about other people’s future. Such an example might be terrorist bombing to reinforce a particular ideology that others do not follow. Other people force their beliefs on young people who have little knowledge of the world outside.
How to change these perceptions is probably one of the hardest challenges faced by society and our school system. By employing the scientific method in all subject areas, teachers will get children to not accept something as true simply because an adult said it was so. Admittedly, this is not always possible in all situations, such as proving or disproving the existence of God, but can be applied to a variety of other facts and concepts. Students must be able to debate effectively, but most importantly, must be willing to accept new points of views that might be contrary to their vision of reality. If we do not succeed, however, in getting the majority of people to practice critical thinking, then the world will not be able to eliminate the radical ideas that lead to ignorance, social and economic regression, and in some cases violence.