I am a language enthusiast mainly blogging about my experiences of learning Mandarin Chinese. Previously a journalist, I have written about social issues for the Guardian, the Independent, New Internationalist, Huffington Post, Equal Times and the Big Issue in the North, among other titles.
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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.