As a journalist I have written about social issues and international affairs for the Guardian, the Independent, New Internationalist, Huffington Post, Equal Times and the Big Issue in the North, among other titles. I now work at the University of Leeds as a qualified careers professional, helping international students fulfill their career ambitions
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Syria debate proves critical thinking should be taught in schools
The city of Raqqa in Syria. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
The level of debate around whether Britain should bomb Syria demonstrates
why critical thinking should become a compulsory subject for children in
British schools. To give an example, if someone puts forward the argument:
"Bombing Syria will strengthen, not weaken, ISIS and make things worse for
all of us", the standard reply: "so what are you proposing; that we
just do nothing?" isnota logically
The question of whether we should bomb Syria or whether bombing will be
counter-productive is entirely separate from the question of whether or not
there are other policies, that do not involve bombing, which could have a
positive effect. The onus is on those defending bombing to demonstrate
that their policy is likely to have positive, rather than negative,
consequences. Merely asking their opponent what they would do instead adds
nothing to their argument whatsoever.
This is understood in almost every other sphere of life outside of politics.
If you remain unconvinced, try the following thought experiment: If you are ill
and I prescribe you some medicine, the onus is on me to justify why I am
confident my remedy will make you better, rather than worse. If you have good reason
to believe the remedy I am prescribing you is actually poisonous, and will therefore
make you worse, and when challenged I fail to provide any evidence to relieve
your suspicions, does it help my case to exclaim: "well what else are you
planning to take other than the poison I've prescribed!?"
Similar tactics are frequently used by religious people debating
atheists. The conversation tends to go like this:
Atheist (A): "I do not believe life is the product of intelligent
design since there is no evidence to suggest this is the case."
Religious person (R): "Well if god didn't create life, then how
did the first life forms come into existence?"
A: "Scientists are working on this problem. There are a number of
plausible theories but we are not yet certain..."
R: "Aha! You don't have a definite alternative! Therefore
you are wrong and god must have created life."
Mainstream political discourse is riddled with this kind of
muddled thinking. One solution to this would be to promote critical thinking in
education as a skill of equal importance to numeracy and literacy. Encouraging
children to engage critically with world affairs from an early age would
certainly do no harm. Unfortunately the few (mostly private) schools which do
teach critical thinking courses basically teach their students to pass an IQ
test, full of puzzles grounded in mathematical logic with no application to the
In my critical thinking course pupils would learn about, debate and
discuss world affairs freely - with minimal input from a teacher other than to
correct muddled thinking, flawed logic and factually incorrect statements.
Attendance would be compulsory but learning would not be assessed -
an alien concept to many policy makers.
The chances of anything of the sort every being implemented into the
national curriculum are non-existent of course, since it wouldn't profit those
in charge of education policy to have a nation of razor sharp minds
scrutinising their record. But there's no harm in dreaming.
Most people are able to place a small bet once in a while
without suffering any real consequences beyond losing a tenner. However, for a
small minority, gambling can become a serious addiction with the power to destroy
In the UK, it’s estimated that around 350,000 people suffer from an
addiction to gambling – recently classified as a disorder in the latest edition
of the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM V) – and those numbers
Last week the Guardian hosted a debate in collaboration with
Discuss, where two expert speakers debated whether or not gambling is now out
of control. Here’s what they thought:
If members of the audience were in any doubt about the
potential for gambling to cause harm, few remained unconvinced after hearing
the first speaker, Paul Buck, recount his personal story. Buck who is the
founder of EPIC, a problem gambling consultancy, began his career in retail shortly
after graduating …
(Originally published by the Big Issue in the North)
In 2008, 15-year-old Jordan Cunliffe was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Although the judge accepted he was blind and took no part in the violence that led to the victim's death, he was convicted under a controversial law known as joint enterprise. Mischa Wilmers speaks to his mother about the fight for justice and why her campaign for urgent legal reform is gathering momentum. Janet
Cunliffe is sitting on the living room sofa anxiously awaiting her son’s prison
call. “Jordan phones home every day at six,” she says, adding that he rarely talks
to the media and is unlikely to make an exception for me. Suddenly the phone
rings and she answers it. They chat for several minutes before she mentions that
a journalist wants to speak to him. It’s obvious he’s reluctant, but after some
persuasion she hands over the phone.
pleasantries and I ask what life is like in prison. “Boring. Every day is the
same,” he replies. Is…
(Originally published by the Big Issue in the North)
The family of a 41-year-old nurse from Stockport who died in
2005 are to be granted a fresh inquest following their investigation into the strange
circumstances surrounding her death and relationship with the former head of
ethics of the British Medical Association (BMA).
After an original inquest into the death of Carole Myers
returned an open verdict, the Felstead family obtained her psychiatric and
medical records which revealed she had undergone “recovered memory” therapy
sessions on the NHS from the age of 21.
During these sessions she was given psychotropic drugs and was
encouraged to believe she had been abused by her parents who she alleged were
serial murderers and members of a satanic cult.
Her new memories also included claims that she had been
abused by two members of the Tory cabinet at the Conservative party
Although these allegations were later shown to be false, their
accuracy was never questioned by t…