As an African student from Liberia, West Africa, I have stretched the need to appeal for “Critical Thinking” in Our Schools. We were taught in Liberia to recollect resources given to us in instructional forms. It has become a fear that some schools in Africa are not working critical thinking with their students. What does it takes to make our students critical thinkers? Our lives are the result of the innumerable choices we make all day long every day, from little things like what we eat for breakfast to life-changing decisions like whether or not we should go back to school. Big or small, every choice we make results in an outcome, and the accumulation of these outcomes shapes our lives. Eating too much of certain foods is eventually going to make a person fat and unhealthy. Going back to school can be the worst decision you’ve ever made if you don’t manage your time, or it could increase your salary and be the best thing you’ve ever done. Practicing critical thinking makes the difference between good decisions and bad ones, but if you haven’t been taught how to think critically, where do you begin? Are critical thinking responsible for bad decisions during elections in Africa? Should we teach Critical Thinking in our Schools?
I was lucky to have been assigned fabulous college counselors in most of the institutions that I attended in the United States. Most of them were thinkers and Kierkegaard scholars, and as a student, I learned to reason. It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t realize until I entered the real world before I recognized the ability they had given me. I share that because I want you to know that it can take time to practice critical thinking, and that it’s never too late to start. It is also a skill that nobody practices 24/7. Sometimes we are good at it, and sometimes we’re not, but the more awareness we have of trying to think critically as often as possible, the better life becomes.
Critical thinkers start by asking questions about whatever is in front of them. They consider cause and effect. If this, then what? If that, then how is the outcome different? They understand that every action has a consequence, and they think about all possible outcomes of decisions before they make them. If we start by asking questions about what our rights is, and what is ours, we will make significant progress.
Once you have asked every question you can come up with about a matter (it helps to write them down), seek information that will help you answer those questions. Investigate! Do some research. Interview people. I’m a big fan of polling. Ask the experts around you. Gather information and various opinions you can use to make your own determination. The wider the variety, the better.
You’ve got a pile of information, and now it’s time to analyze it all with an open mind. This is the most challenging part, in my opinion. It can be pretty difficult to recognize the filters that were instilled in us from our first relations. We are products of our environments, of the ways in which we were treated as a child, of the role models we’ve had throughout our lives, of the opportunities we have said yes or no to, of the sum of all of our experiences. Try to be as aware as possible of those filters and biases, and turn them off. Question everything during this step. Are you being objective? Are you speculating? Assuming anything? This is the time to look at every thought as purely as possible. Do you know it to be absolutely true? What are the facts? Have you considered the situation from every different point of view? Be ready to be surprised by how many times we all jump to conclusions that aren’t reached through critical thinking. Our molds brings about consequences that affect us and our communities.
Critical thinkers are more interested in solutions than in placing blame, complaining, or gossiping. Once you’ve reached a conclusion through critical thinking, it’s time to communicate and implement a solution if one is called for. This is the time for compassion, empathy, diplomacy. Not everyone involved will have thought the situation through as critically as you have. It’s your job to understand that, and to present solutions in a way that everyone can understand.
Let start practicing “Critical Thinking” in our decisions to elect leaders that represent us in significant positions, and even with the quality of education that we obtain in our numerous institutions in Africa. Thank you!