Critical thinking is a buzzword that is often used by educators. So what exactly is it and how can we teach it to our children? Simply put, critical thinking is often described as open-ended, complex thinking. It allows for children to have different interpretations and perspectives on a topic, issue, or problem. This is an extremely important skill for children to have in the 21st century, as we will be preparing them for jobs that may not exist today.
Educators often use Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy to engage children in critical thinking activities. The lower-level thinking activities often have to do with recalling facts or retelling stories (e.g., knowledge, comprehension). This leads children to believe that there is only one right answer to a problem. The higher-level thinking activities are more open-ended and may explore a character’s motivation in the story. The teacher may choose to compare and contrast two different versions of a story (e.g., analysis, synthesis).
Parents can also do this at home. For example, most children have heard the classic story of the three little pigs. However, have all children heard the wolf’s side of the story? The wolf’s perspective of this story can be found in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Another example would be the classic tale of Cinderella. Children can also gain exposure to the Chinese Cinderella, Egyptian Cinderella, Indian Cinderella, French Cinderella, Indonesian Cinderella, Mexican Cinderella, or Middle Eastern Cinderella. By reading a diverse set of Cinderella stories, parents can promote higher-level thinking skills for children by analyzing the similarities and differences in the stories. Children can identify how elements of the story can be different (e.g., each country’s unique culture) but how the plot is still able to achieve the same purpose.
Parents should also ask questions that promote critical thinking at home. Rather than asking your child for the right answer, ask more open-ended questions. Teaching children about diverse cultures is one way parents can make sure children are learning how to think critically about diverse issues, topics, and perspectives. When children begin to understand that their point of view is not the only point of view—-they begin to realize that there are multiple ways to see the world. From this vantage point, children will learn to search for multiple ways to engage in complex problems that they may encounter in life.
For example, take the issues of when culture intersects with gender. In the United States, children are taught about gender-equality and how women and men should be treated equally. Women should not be oppressed or exploited. However, what happens when a culture dictates that women and men have different roles in society? What happens when their culture states that women and men should be treated differently? In some cultures (e.g., South Asian American), women can bring honor or shame to their family based on what they do in society. Thus, in these cultures there are more limits placed on women. Furthermore, in the United States which is a individualistic culture, children are taught that they should make decisions on their own interests, needs, or desires. However, in collectivistic cultures (e.g., Asian, Hispanic, Native-American) children are taught to think about how their decisions will influence family member. They are also taught to make decisions by respecting the wishes of their family members.
Through these types of questions, children learn to critically think through topics, issues, and perspectives. Diversity is complex and children will learn how to reason through these issues by looking at both worldviews: They will learn how the skill of reasoning can be applied from their point of view and from another person’s point of view. They will learn how to understand another person’s viewpoint, even if it is not their own. According to Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy, this is the highest level of critical thinking, evaluation—when a child can form an opinion and make judgments about the various ideas, interpretations, and perspectives that exist in society.
By Amita Roy Shah, Ed.D.