Critical Thinking: A plea for less problem “saying” and more problem “solving”

Image Courtesy  Fabian Medina (CC)
Image Courtesy Fabian Medina (CC)

So much has been written about the realities (positive and negative) of the digital information age.  Information is disseminated at increasingly higher speeds, granting the end user unprecedented access to the seemingly most up-to-date information.  Social media and blogs create platforms for posting and re-posting ideas, perspectives and opinions.  It could be argued that society, in one sense, is more informed than at any other time in human history.

It also can be argued that this flood of information is a significant part of what has contributed to a deeply polarized and partisan society.  This point, click, and publish environment effectively opens the door for emotionally charged, biased reporting which leads to even more emotionally charged, biased responses.  With so much information available at such a fast pace, it has become difficult to discern fact from opinion.  At greatest risk is the ability of the reader to objectively evaluate the information and think critically about its content.

The combination of many factors, including the instant access to information and data, has contributed to a potential crisis in critical thinking leading to societal patterns more aligned with problem “saying” than problem “solving”.  

Educators have long promoted the importance of critical thinking within the learning community.  Foundational to Christian schooling is the integration of Biblical truth into the critical thinking process. Central to Biblical truth is the grace of God in Christ and our purpose to gratefully glorify him in all things.  Stemming from God’s great love for us, the truth of Scripture provides the framework through which all of life can be understood.

Critical thinking has gone more the way of defining what is wrong than graciously participating in finding solutions.  A particularly alarming example of this is the routine re-posting of blogs and articles that aren’t fact-checked in an effort to further convince networks of friends and connections the “rightness” of one viewpoint and the “wrongness” of the opposition.  This “us against them” culture elevates hostile debate over compassionate discourse and blurs the witness of hope found only in Christ.  Christian schooling should be distinctively designed to re-shape these dangerous trends to help students truly think critically about the world around them and contribute to problem solving that reflects the shalom of Christ and his kingdom.

While there are many situations in life where right and wrong are as clearly distinctive as black and white, many of the pathways we travel and decisions we make fall in shades of gray.  Christian schools must equip and enable students to search the scriptures to discern what is true.  Students must be challenged to evaluate complicated ideas and worldly philosophies so that their knowledge and faith can be cultivated and refined by fire, but in a safe, nurturing environment.  Critical thinking requires an understanding of Biblical absolutes and the shades of gray in order to analyze and synthesize ideas to create informed beliefs and opinions. Biblical integration promotes wrestling with the nuances and complications of real life within a context that cherishes each person’s value as a bearer of God’s image.  The desired outcome is students who can think seriously about difficult issues through the lens of God’s Word and communicate clear thoughts, ideas and solutions with the humility of Christ.

Scripture clearly teaches us that God cares about all of his creation.  He gave the Israelites the law for their flourishing and he established structures and systems by which they could live together and flourish.  Even in exile in Egypt, Babylon and Rome,  they were encouraged to pray for, and participate in, the flourishing of the cities in which they were exiles.  Joseph and Daniel were excellent examples of imperfect, but active contributors to justice and the betterment of the public square.  They were both gifted by God, and well trained, to serve the good of the city and to solve problems that led to its flourishing.  Accomplishing God’s missional work in cultures that are hostile to Christ and his kingdom requires cross-shaped laboring alongside those with whom we disagree and bridge building intended for the common good of those we serve.

Christian schools should not be communities defined for how well equipped their students are to be problem “sayers”.  Christian schools must be places that are defined by their capacity to unlock the potential of students to be creative problem “solvers” who manifest the renewing purpose of Christ and his kingdom in all areas of society and culture.  

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