Critical thinking can feel in short supply these days. Politics is more polarized than ever, the president regularly dismisses his opposition as enemies, losers, or phonies, while critics of the president cannot bear the thought of ever entertaining support for his ideas or actions.
If a lack of civility in public discourse is the problem, a lack of critical thinking may be partly to blame. A recent study by the Reboot Foundation, which was founded to fund research on critical thinking and develop resources for parents and schools, concluded that while the American public claims to engage with opposing views, people don’t actually do so in practice.
Only 25% of people are willing to regularly have debates with people who disagree with them; roughly the same share says that they regularly avoid talking to people with opposing views. It is hard to build critical-thinking muscles when they are engaged simply to confirm one’s own existing beliefs. Men are particularly poor at seeking discussions with people with opposing views: they are about 20 percentage points more likely than women to avoid people with whom they disagree.
… Reboot’s research reveals the need to bolster society’s capacity for critical thinking. Only a fifth of parents asked their kids frequently or daily to consider an opposing view; only a quarter of parents frequently help their children evaluate evidence, an essential skill to honing one’s reasoning abilities; and only a third of parents have their children regularly discuss issues without a right or wrong answer.
As I prepare to head home for the holidays I’m thinking about any potential political debate. In recent years we try to avoid it. Before that we relished a good argument. While not at the level of a high school debate club, it was fun and we left in good terms.
I’m interested to see if we can do it again.