Raising a Critical Thinker in a Polarized World
When the world feels divided, raising a child to be a critical thinker has become more important than ever. As a society, we’re moving further away from harmony, unity, and understanding and we’re becoming increasingly deaf to each other’s ideas and increasingly convinced of our own ideas.
The loud polarizing voices are very clear in the American political sphere, but it’s not just in politics and it’s not just in America.
The list of polarizing topics is significantly increasing. Our understanding of the pandemic, religion, vaccinations, social issues, cultural issues, financial and economic approaches – you name it, we’re fighting about it.
What are we to do?
Watch: Critical Thinking Skills for Kids
In my new video, I share ways we can encourage critical thinking skills for kids who are being raised in a polarized world (i.e. every kid.) We want children to become critical thinkers who honor diversity, celebrate commonalities, and are able to hold balanced and nuanced opinions, even in the most polarizing arguments.
Watch my new video, Teaching Kids to Think Critically, below!
Are You a Critical Thinker?
I’m sure we all like to think of ourselves as critical thinkers, but yet as a society, we are becoming increasingly deaf to each other’s ideas and increasingly convinced of our own ideas.
Why is this happening to us?
We Are Living in An Echo Chamber
One of the reasons we are seeing a significant and marked increase in polarization is because we are living in an echo chamber. The idea of an echo chamber is that you basically go into a room with an echo, and you’re just hearing the same voice bounce off the walls again and again, but no new voices are coming in.
Echo chambers continually repeat back to you what you already know, what you’ve already said, what you already believe, and don’t challenge your ideas or expose you to new ones.
Critical Thought is No Longer Needed
When you go on any social media platform, critical thought is no longer needed because the algorithms put you in an echo chamber. The documentary, “The Social Dilemma” gives us an example that if you search for “climate change,” Google will auto-fill your search depending on where you live, what Google already knows about your opinions, and the opinions of the people around you.
This is the extent of how search engines are not based on facts or reality but rather based on polarized opinions. They will continue to serve up more things that will confirm your current held viewpoints. No need to be a critical thinker! And these algorithms will very rarely share with you anything that they think that you’re not likely to engage with, enjoy, and share.
Critical Thinking is Important Though!
Critical thinking is important but the algorithms won’t agree.
The algorithm is not there to help you broaden your opinions or balance out your viewpoints to challenge yourself and develop empathy for the other side.
The algorithm is optimized to simply keep your attention on the platform and to do that, they know that the best thing to do is to continuously echo back to you what you already think and believe.
We Must Raise our Child to Be a Critical Thinker
As parents, we must raise our child to be a critical thinker. We must teach our children that what you see online is completely catered to and fine-tuned to keep you hooked and to confirm for you, that you are in the right, that you are a good person, and that you are being supported and backed by a lot of people around you.
And people on the opposite end of the spectrum are being served an entirely different set of facts, articles, or videos that are serving to further convince them that their viewpoint is right.
Teaching Critical Thinking Skills
Teaching critical thinking skills is vital and I have some very strongly held goals that I want to help my children develop during their childhood.
When it comes to each of my children, I want them to:
1. Become a Critical Thinker
If we want our child to become a critical thinker, they must be exposed to alternative points of view. We need to resist the urge to “protect” our kids from any views or opinions that we don’t agree with. Shielding your child from an idea actually makes them more vulnerable to that idea.
2. Have Balanced & Nuanced Opinions
I would love for my children to develop the ability to discern. Even some of the best ideas, when taken to the extreme, can become unhealthy. If we want to stay balanced, we need to be exposed to alternative viewpoints, which in turn can bolster your own. I want to teach my children that everyone is at least worth listening to.
3. Develop Empathy & Celebrate Diversity
I want my kids to have empathy and celebrate diversity beyond the “superficial.” I want them to experience real diversity of opinions, thought, attitudes, approaches, and temperaments. I want them to learn from what goes on in the hearts, minds, and souls of another person. I want my kids to understand that it’s okay for others to believe differently, live differently, and vote differently than they do.
There’s always something to learn from other people. Ideas are something that we can contend with. I want my children to understand that we all have more in common with others than what divides us.
Shielding Kids Doesn’t Make Them Stronger
Shielding kids from a diversity of opinions, from complexity and disagreements, does not make them stronger. It makes them weaker.
It’s important for us to ask ourselves – if you love and care about someone like you love and care about your children, do you shield them from the opportunities to grow stronger?
I think we want to share with them other opinions and teach them tolerance in the face of differing world views. That not everybody thinks like us. That not everybody behaves like us.
So How Can We Help Our Kids Become Critical Thinkers?
How exactly can we help our kids to become the critical thinkers we dream of?
1. Help Them Poke Holes in their Theories
To help our children steer away from polarization, we can help them to poke holes in their own theories and not get stuck in the trap of arrogant self-assurance and self-righteousness.
What that means is that when my child makes a bombastic statement about something that they don’t really understand, then I’ll use a Socratic method of asking questions to help my kids think through an idea or opinion.
It sounds like, “Huh! How did you come to that conclusion? Who told you about that? Why do you think they said that? What do you think it means? What have you made it mean? Did you get this info from a reliable source? Have you checked? Do you understand what the consequences of that type of thinking could be? Why are you repeating this idea that perhaps you can’t back up?”
As adults, we can sometimes get into this place of self-righteousness (especially in the age of Googling everything.) We think we have an in-depth grasp of something just because we’ve heard a sound bite, read one article, or got third-hand information.
And I want my children to know that we actually need to go a lot deeper.
2. Help Them To Learn from Others
I want to help them know that there is always something to learn from others. Even if on the surface it doesn’t seem that way, you can meet people who seem much less intelligent than you, who, who seem to lead a completely different lifestyle than you, or who look like the type of people you would disagree with on every kind of level, and that it is arrogant to assume that you don’t have anything to learn from them.
3. Help Them Contend With Ideas
I want my kids to know that ideas are something that are not to be accepted at face value. You can tease apart, analyze, and make your own informed judgements on any idea you hear. I want to say to my kids:
How about you come to your own opinion? How about it be an informed opinion, a well thought out opinion, an opinion that people can actually ask you confronting and probing questions and that you can actually stand up to? If you’re going to say any statement, no matter the topic, how about we try and develop a situation where you can actually stand behind it?
Those are the types of skills we want to offer our children.
4. Help Them See Commonality vs Division
As a heartfelt plea for unity, harmony, kindness, and compassion, I want my children to understand that we all have more in common with others than what divides us.
All of us have the ability to empathize and to imagine what it’s like to be that person with that point of view on the world.
Polarization is Breaking my Heart
I have felt heartbroken recently seeing that families are being torn apart by polarizing issues, by things like politics or the interpretation of the pandemic.
It is absolutely heartbreaking to me to see people say that their grandparents aren’t allowed to speak to their grandchildren anymore because of the way they are voting, or to see that marriages are crumbling because of things like this.
I think it’s heartbreaking. I think it’s tragic. I think it’s so unnecessary. I think it’s the opposite of what any of us truly want in our society.
And I don’t think that this is something that we should just stand by and watch and allow it to happen. I think it needs to be fought. And so I am fighting it.
Raise a Critical Thinker through Leading by Example
By sharing this message of depolarizing, of harmonizing, connecting, communicating, even with people we completely disagree with, it doesn’t mean that you will endorse their ideas. It doesn’t mean that you will support their concepts.
It means that you will commit to being a critical thinker, to commit to see the greater humanity in each of us and that you are willing to tolerate, accept, and connect with people and to try to build bridges rather than tear them down.
If that’s something that you believe in and that you want support, especially as a parent who wants to lead by example as we go through these incredibly polarizing times, then consider joining me in DePolarize.
Can’t wait to see you on the inside!