Friday, 3 June 2011

Critical Thinking - a forgotten art?

I see it all the time. Impulsive, emotionally driven facebook status updates questioning (with some level of vented frustration and aggression) current issues and events that sometimes just don't make sense given the evidence presented. One popular outcry goes something like "Why is the Australian government spending all this money on refugees when we have our own people to look after!"
I intentionally used "!" instead of "?" in the above paraphrase because this question is usually more of a pointed statement than a legitimate request for information.

And if all you do is watch the prime time news, with their 5 second video clips that make a good story - for example, refugee riots at the detention centres - it's easy to understand why some people form a fairly negative opinion of refugees as a whole. The prime time news is very good at several things: glorification, alarmism, sensationalism, and vilification - just to name a few.  If it's not big enough, they'll word it so it's bigger. If it's not scandalous enough on it's own, they'll film themselves chasing down their story's antagonist shouting rhetorical questions (all the while thinking to themselves that this is making "great footage") after the person has asked them to leave them alone because their questions are pointed and designed to incriminate. Everyone loves a good villain, right?

It's what sells advertisement spots when the masses who have had a hard day at work come home and want to watch something entertaining. It's a shame most people have forgotten the 'critical thinking' skills drilled into them throughout high school English classes. But then again, after a hard days slog at the office, who wants to think critically? It's much easier to just get swept away in the drama of watching a few 5 second clips of people shouting behind a fence, overlaid with intense music that sounds like the presenter of the story took it from the "Music not quite good enough to play on a soap opera" folder in their station's music inventory.

So given that the mass media are continually attempting to pass off sensationalist journalism as "the truth," it becomes more and more apparent as to why the average Joe gets frustrated with the current state of affairs - small events are taken out of context and fuel is added to the fire that feeds a vicious cycle: The mass media's sub par reporting is made to entertain the average Joe, which then shapes his or her opinion on an issue with minimal information, which then becomes popular opinion, which is then catered to by mass media with similar entertaining 'stories' in an attempt to sell more advertising spots, which then shapes Average Joes's opinion with minimal information, and so on and so forth...

As such the importance of being critical of the information offered up by mass media is crucial. I've spoken to plenty of people who like to believe they're informed, particularly regarding the Australian refugee situation and what the government expenditure is on the issue - but when questioned further, they couldn't quote me one legitimate reliable source of information, and seem to take it personally when I tell them that the Australian Government spends more on Australian Sport than accommodating the refugees, this is quickly followed up with something like "Well I'm allowed my opinion."

And sure, everyone is allowed their opinion, and in the opinion of this writer it would be best if their opinion wasn't based purely on what they read in the Sunday Times Newspaper and see on the 6 o'clock news read from a teleprompter by people like Sandra Sully. Remember, these sources of information are run by companies whose main goal is profit - they're going to write stories in a way that sells, not in a way that tells the raw truth. This may seem like stating the obvious to some, but it makes me wonder why then so many people don't go even a little bit out of the way to search other more legitimate sources of information and facts on which to base their opinion.

My next entry will address a common catch cry of the average frustrated Australian bogan, "Why is the Australian government spending all this money on refugees when we have our own people to look after!"

And until then, this writer will leave you with a small list of characteristics of a "well-cultivated critical thinker" (compliments of Richard Linden and Linda Elder, 2008).....

The well-cultivated critical thinker:
  • raises vital questions and problems,formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information;
  • carefully interprets information to form well-reasoned conclusions;
  • tests conclusions,evaluating against relevant criteria;
  • thinks open-mindedly,avoiding the influence of untested or irrational concepts and beliefs;and
  • communicates effectively with others,particularly in the development and testing of conclusions or solutions.


Richard Linden and Linda Elder, 2008

1 comment:

  1. I think another thing to bear in mind is that people seem to make their facebook status's when they're very emotionally involved in the thing they're writing about. When instead they should take a step back and wait to calm down a bit first.
    The same should be done for making opinions on such matters as you've outlined, going into it with a clear mind makes things easier to understand (and usually gives you a better picture).