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The Importance of Critical Thinking on Developing Minds, Especially in the Realm of Politics and Media Literacy

By · May 20, 2024 · 5 min read

The Importance of Critical Thinking on Developing Minds, Especially in the Realm of Politics and Media Literacy

As we grow in life, we are taught many things. From the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, we are constantly learning new things each and every day, whether or not. One of the most important things that we can learn, however, is critical thinking.

The University of Louisville defines critical thinking as:

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Simply put, critical thinking is essentially analyzing facts for the purpose of making a judgment.

Importance of Criticl Thinking

Critical thinking is a crucial skill for anyone to learn because it allows individuals to grow and mature as humans and succeed at their goals. First off, critical thinking is universal. No matter what path you choose to follow, critical thinking will always be relevant and beneficial to your success. This is especially true in today’s fast-growing economy, where technology, information, and innovation make the world go around. Critical thinking is more important than ever to solve problems as quickly and effectively as possible.

Critical thinking also allows individuals to become more informed and active citizens, which are key components of a democratic society. Democracy does not work without an informed citizenry and requires individuals to decipher between honest facts and misinformation. We are living in an age where limitless information is accessible to everyday citizens and fake news can reach millions of people in seconds. Knowing what is true and false allows individuals to make better decisions when they vote because they’ll know the benefits and drawbacks of certain public policies or whether or not a candidate is fit for office. Critical thinking also opens the door to people changing their minds on a certain position or political party by evaluating new information and how it compares with what they knew before. Tribalism and extreme polarization are two reasons a democracy can die and critical thinking allows people not to fall into those traps.

Everyone reaches points in their life where they face a problem or are at a crossroads. Perhaps we are struggling on a school or job assignment, or going through an internal or interpersonal conflict. These instances require self-reflection, which isn’t possible without critically thinking about the present problem, how the conflict began, and what options can we use to resolve it. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves when necessary and live a meaningful life.

Correlation Between Critical Thinking and SAT Scores

It is important to take a step back and look closer at the education system in America. This is important to look at to see if there is a correlation between the importance of critical thinking in today’s society, especially in younger and developing minds, and if the role of critical thinking is as prevalent as it needs to be.

The e-learning service, PrepScholar, compiled SAT averages from 1972 to 2023. Looking at SAT scores in both reading and writing, there is a noticeable trend that is not too comforting. While there has been a notable increase in the mathematics scores of the years, there is also a bigger deviation to look at.

When looking at the reading scores from 2009 to 2016, there is a pretty sizable decline in critical reading scores. It should be noted that between the years of 1972 and 2008, there were only 2 years in which the critical reading score averages were below 500. Between 2009 and 2016, there was only one year in which the critical reading averages were at least 500.

And while those numbers did go up after 2016, that is probably because of the taking away of the writing section as part of the SATs, which got taken out after 2016. There may be just a coincidence between the elimination of a whole different testing section, but it is unlikely.

Even looking at 2022 and 2023, the average test scores in both math and critical reading went down. And while they only went down a few points, if the trend continues in the following years, the scores will just continue to get lower and lower.

While these test scores are not too frightening in their own regard, they do point to an interesting conclusion:

“The years of study that a student engages in matter. The more years of secondary education someone has completed, the better her average score on the SAT will be. Higher GPA scores also correlate with higher SAT scores.”

The importance of critical thinking is clearly evident and can be shown in the data presented. More education often tends to lead to better testing scores.

How Critical Thinking Impacts Media Literacy

We’re living in an age where multitudes of information is accessible at anyone’s fingertips. While a lot of information is objective and from credible sources, other content is riddled with biases and inaccuracies. Critical thinking paves the way for strong media literacy and allows individuals to decipher between honest journalism and misinformation.

News media literacy is the ability to critically analyze, elevate, and interpret information from news sources. Individuals with strong news media literacy understand how news is produced, identify biases and misinformation, and distinguish between fact and fiction.

Teaching students media literacy and how to think critically when digesting news carries numerous benefits. A study in the Journal of Media Literacy Education measured levels of news media literacy of 500 teenagers. Teens with the highest new media literacy were, “found to be more intrinsically motivated to consume news, more skeptical, and more knowledgeable about current events than their less news literate counterparts”

A greater population of people who are highly news literate can help combat and prevent the spread of fake news and other misinformation.

We mentioned that critical thinking improves news media literacy but the inverse is also true. As the Thinking Habitats explained:

“By engaging with news media and seeking out diverse perspectives on issues, individuals can develop their ability to question assumptions, evaluate evidence, and consider multiple perspectives. This can lead to a more nuanced understanding of complex issues and a greater appreciation for the diverse perspectives that exist in society.”

News media literacy and critical thinking support each other and allow individuals to become more informed, active, and productive members of society.

Relationship Between Critical Thinking and Learning Styles

A medical study from Alborz University of Medical Sciences examined the relationship between learning styles and critical thinking of students and their academic performance. They randomly selected 216 students at the university and put them through, “a three-part questionnaire included demographic data, Kolb standardized questionnaire of learning style and California critical thinking standardized questionnaire.” They also analyzed their school records for academic performance. What the study found was a slew of findings.

“The results of this study showed that the learning styles, critical thinking and academic performance are significantly associated with one another. Considering the growing importance of critical thinking in enhancing the professional competence of individuals, it’s recommended to use teaching methods consistent with the learning style because it would be more effective in this context.”

What this study shows is the mere importance of critical thinking and how it can vastly help not just developing minds, but the minds of all students.

Linda Murawski also agreed with this notion in her study on how critical thinking changes the classroom.

“Instructors who teach critical thinking provide students with the opportunity to understand and take charge of their learning. Students who implement critical thinking skills approach the courseware in a more thoughtful and effective manner, ask more challenging questions, and participate in the learning process more intensely. Students who develop critical thinking skills often practice those skills well into later life. These skills may, in fact, literally change their lives forever.”

Murawski also makes a table that shows, in her opinion, the ways an effective and ineffective problem solver thinks. This chart clearly shows the advantages of learning how to think critically, especially at a younger age.

There are many, many reasons as to why critical thinking is a very valuable asset not just to young and developing minds, but to any person who is willing to learn and see things from a different angle. From higher test scores to better student engagement to even a better chance of landing a job in the workforce. Critical thinking is a very important skill that more schools and institutions should be implementing into teaching curriculums to better help future generations seize and develop their future.

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