3 minute read
We are in a communications crisis in this country. The crisis stems from the amount of information put in front of us every day by a multitude of sources; from news outlets (both printed and virtual), to social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. The amount of information and the vast differences in what is being conveyed is at an all-time high during this election cycle. Many of you would agree that it has gotten almost impossible to know how much of it is misleading information, who or what to believe, or what is fact or fake.
A large contributor to this communications crisis is that unsupported conclusions often go unchallenged because we don’t practice critical thinking. In 1990, Joseph Halpern (a professor of computer science at Cornell University) was almost clairvoyant in identifying what I believe to be one of the causes of this crisis: “Education leaders should teach students the skills of checking the credibility and reliability of sources obtained in different ways to be able to make a sound judgment. These skills are increasingly becoming an integral part of teaching critical thinking.” 
In her paper published in 1995, Alison King gave us a glimpse into what we should be doing: “Critical thinkers investigate things around them and ask good questions every time they come across things that are not satisfactory to them.”  What Halpern and King are trying to tell us, is not to take everything the media tells us at face value. They also provide compelling reasons for enhancing our education system with practical critical thinking skills, a topic of some of my previous blog posts.
Tip of the Week:
Here then, is the tip of the week. Now more than ever, it is important that we practice critical thinking. This means asking great questions and drawing our own conclusions. Here are some tips on how we might apply critical thinking to the many communications we receive.
- Gather available information from various sources on the topic of interest; not just from a single source but from a variety of sources that may not share the same views.
- Organize the information in a way that you can review it and analyze it. Tools such as a table in a Word document or a spreadsheet are very useful.
- Analyze the information; challenge statements that do not make sense to you, or are at odds with other bits of information you have. Generate questions to resolve areas where there is ambiguity. Asking the best possible questions is what differentiates critical thinkers from the average person.
- Get answers to these focused questions, to help you validate the facts and eliminate the fiction. It may be impossible for you to go to the sources for answers, but you could visit credible and reliable fact-checking websites that are doing just that.
- Draw your own conclusions by summing up what you have learned from your own analysis. Then you can decide the best course of action to take from an informed position.
Taking an initiative to practice critical thinking will help clarify your positions, solidify your beliefs, and ultimately help you make informed decisions when it comes time to casting your vote.
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