A Critique of Critical Thinking

It hit me like a sledge hammer when my children became adolescents. Suddenly everything I said or did needed to be challenged and debunked, just because I didn’t have the necessary scientific equipment to “prove” the sky was blue or that it’s dangerous for young people to be out late at night.

Thus began my quest to identify the source of this intellectual scourge that had been perpetrated on my beloved children.

After considerable research, I finally found it. It would appear that Critical Thinking, the holy grail of our education system and Critical Theory, the driving ideology of the Frankfurt School, have co-joined to perfect our children in spite of themselves and their parents.

Education has morphed from a method to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next into a process for training children “how to think rather than what to think”. But, unhappily, “critical thinking” is the only “how” they know. Traditional education never did teach children what to think. It delivered to them the skills, knowledge and information with which to think.

Our education system used to be the distillation of 10,000 years of human thought, knowledge, observation and experience designed to permit each generation to “stand on the shoulders of giants”, to enable them to lead civilization forward.

At first exposure, “critical thinking” sounded like an innocent enough generic phrase, probably meaning “essential”, “fundamental” thinking. Unfortunately, simplified for children, with just a dash of Critical Theory, it becomes little more than “fault finding”. The key criteria for acceptance of any thought or concept was that it has been scientifically proven, otherwise it was just opinion, prejudice or discrimination and therefore immoral.

From The Critical Thinking Institute



“The Problem

Everyone thinks. It is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. Yet, the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.”

This underlying premise is probably the most destructive aspect of the application of Critical Thinking in our school system. Children are first taught that their normal thought processes and their instincts are downright prejudiced. They are quite literally taught to distrust their own thoughts and to resist the temptation to trust anyone else either. The only unbiased opinion is no opinion.

This premise flies in the face of human nature. It fails to distinguish between actual prejudice and mere personal preference. It uses the natural condition of being more comfortable with the familiar than the unfamiliar to demonstrate to children how prejudiced they are. It does more to undermine thought than to engage and elevate it.

A key error of the Critical Thinking school is the fallacy that it is the highest order thought process. Actually, it is one of the lowest.   Have you ever had a close relationship with a 5-year old child? If you have, you have been outsmarted by that child. It is the first thought process children engage in or display upon getting a fundamental grasp of language. It is the behavior which no doubt sparked the old adage “children should be seen and not heard”.

They question and challenge everything with a complete lack of judgment or understanding in the absence of accumulated experience and knowledge. It can be forgiven an innocent child who is eager to acquire the experience and knowledge necessary to survive. But in an adolescent in the throes of self-definition, it is downright dangerous.

The whole principle of critical thinking, as practiced in our education system, is to indiscriminately challenge everything, which is just about as useful as indiscriminately accepting everything. Even worse, it is a formula that will suffocate other more productive thought processes such as analytical and creative thinking.

Think about it for a minute, if no thought or idea that has not already been proven is worthy of consideration, no new thought can be generated because it cannot have been proven since it is new. One is lost in the circular logic of the impossibility of everything. Bye-bye creativity and innovation.

Can you name even one brilliant innovation that was not first met with rejection and ridicule? That is not to say that inspiring ridicule should be an objective, only that it should not be allowed to be an obstacle. At one time, coming of age included the ability to hold one’s own against the onslaught of peer pressure. That milestone, that first breath of independence and individual liberty, has been successfully stripped from the growth experience of all too many of today’s youth. They are instead conditioned to rely upon consensus.

Take it one step further, if one engages exclusively in “critical thinking”, something must first be there to criticize. Even at its best, it is a completely reactive thought process not a proactive thought process. Locking young and inquisitive minds into such a cage is an unfathomable disservice to them and to the future.

The impact on judgment and morale of always focusing on the negative is even worse.   It is more important to identify and fortify strengths and positives than to eliminate negatives.   Why would someone put any effort into anything if it’s predisposed to be wrong? If you really want to destroy production in yourself or anyone, focus only on the flaws. Morale and production will fall out the bottom and level out at the lowest common denominator.

Interestingly, I’ve found that while deliberately seeking the positive, all of the negatives are exposed in high relief. It’s actually easier to locate the flaws while searching out strengths, because you don’t stop at the first one and chew it to death ending with dismissiveness. Even more important, those flaws are then seen in perspective and it is easy to distinguish major or fatal flaws from minor anomalies to determine how much corrective effort will be productive.

So “admiration” is the antidote to chronic critical thinking. If you think you may be engaging in too much critical thinking, try admiration for a few weeks. Discipline yourself to deliberately seek out and identify the admirable and admire it. Though nothing is perfect, every person, place, thing or thought contains elements worthy of admiration. After a few weeks, write back and tell me what you think, or more importantly, what have you discovered?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s