5 Things Parents and Teachers Can Do to Teach Kids Critical Thinking Skills

Dec 6, 2018 12:00:00 AM


There’s a growing premium on critical thinking. The skill of robust reasoning is increasingly crucial for work—and a successful life. People who know how to think logically, analyze and draw conclusions make better choices. According to researcher Heather Butler, good critical thinkers are less likely to foreclose on a home or carry large credit card balances. To a degree, the public knows the value of critical thinking. [pullquote position="right"]Well over 95 percent of Americans believe critical thinking is important.[/pullquote] That’s according to a new study commissioned by the Reboot Foundation. (Full disclosure: I’m the executive director of the foundation). But the Reboot study also suggests that society is not doing enough to give young people robust critical thinking skills, and our system of education is part of the problem. Only half of the respondents in the study say their schools gave them strong critical thinking skills, for instance. Below are five takeaways for teachers, parents and schools when it comes to teaching better thinking.
  1. The public believes that schools should do more to emphasize critical thinking. When it comes to teaching effective reasoning, the public believes that schools play an important role.The study found, for instance, that 92 percent of respondents say that K-12 schools should require courses that develop critical thinking skills. Another 90 percent of respondents think that critical thinking courses should be required in colleges and universities.
  2. Parents can do more help their kids develop critical thinking skills. When it comes to critical thinking, parents are overconfident. In our survey, parents said that they are quite good at teaching their children critical thinking.The Reboot study, however, finds that parents often do not ask their children questions that facilitate richer forms of critical thought. For example, just 26 percent of parents frequently evaluate evidence with their children and just a third regularly discuss issues that have a right or wrong answer.But both exercises are key to advancing reasoning, a skill necessary for independent decision-making.
  3. Students should consult a wider array of resources while doing research. Here’s a frightening stat: About 33 percent of the survey’s respondents said they generally only use one source of information before making a decision.This suggests that more needs to be done to help individuals vary their information diets and consult multiple references for information, both online and off. This is a skill that can be learned, and classrooms should encourage students to do more research and engage a variety of sources.
  4. And it shouldn’t be Twitter. The study made it clear that people had a particularly hard time thinking critically online.For instance, more than a third of people consider Wikipedia, a crowd-sourced website, to be the equivalent of a thoroughly vetted encyclopedia. The study also showed that people believe the accuracy of more than a third of what they read on Twitter and Facebook. There is value to information on social media platforms but to take them as gospel is not good practice.
  5. Differing points of view should be encouraged. While people claim that they engage opposing views, they don’t actually engage other views in practice.The study found for instance that only 25 percent of people are willing to regularly have debates with people who disagree with them. Another 24 percent of respondents say they regularly avoid talking to people with opposing views.This practice appears to be learned partly at home, and only 20 percent of parents frequently or very often ask their children to consider an opposing view.
As the report notes, thinking critically is key for individuals and society. Indeed, critical thinking might be the most valuable approach to building a better, stronger nation. It will grow our economy and strengthen our democracy, and far more should be done to support teachers, parents and schools in promoting better forms of thought.

Helen Lee Bouygues

Helen Lee Bouygues is an experienced corporate director and senior executive with expertise in digital transformation, innovation and turnarounds. She has intervened in over 25 companies as interim CEO, CFO or as advisor. She is currently writing a book on critical thinking in this new digital world. She is also creating a site for parents of children ages 7-14 to access material on how to incorporate critical thinking exercises in our daily lives. Helen is a former investment banker, private equity investor and former Partner at McKinsey & Company. She is known for her deep business transformation expertise and was named by leading French journals including Le Point, Express, La Tribune and Les Echos as one of the top five leading turnaround experts in France. She has given courses at INSEAD Business School and at over 20 private equity funds on levers for operational improvement and tactics in restructuring. She sits on multiple boards, including sectors in oil and gas, retail, renewable energy and automotive parts. She is also on the executive board of the American Hospital of Paris and the founder of the Reboot Foundation, an organization that aims to better integrate critical thinking into the daily lives of people around the world. Helen Lee Bouygues is the proud mother of a 7-year-old, the age considered to be the “age of reason” since these children can begin to understand another’s point of view. Her daughter is more often reasonable than not. She wrote her Princeton thesis on Schumpeter and “strategic liberalism”; and is active today in French think tanks promoting liberalism and Schumpeterian principles. Helen graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She can be followed online @BouyguesLee.

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