Forbes columns

A compilation of Helen Lee Bouygues’s regular column in Forbes on critical thinking research and education.

The Reboot Foundation, which I founded to advance critical thinking in education, recently published a Parents’ Guide to Critical Thinking. A group of experts — led by researcher Sébastian Dieguez at the University of Fribourg — spent more than a year pulling together the guide, relying on the latest research in the sciences, and the document brims with tips on how parents can help their children learn to reason in the Digital Age. 

Next-generation cell phones have commandeered our attention spans with their constant demands, and according to a study released last year, most people check their phones every 12 minutes or so. Ten percent of people check their phones every four minutes.  

The incessant distractions can have a negative impact on our lives, and studies show that too much cell phone use harms everything from learning to relationships. 

Expeditionary Learning schools are grounded in the philosophy that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. To students at Two Rivers Public Charter School, critical thinking is simply school culture. In addition to classroom lessons, they work on subject-specific projects and showcase their findings to classmates, parents and teachers. The school has designed a critical thinking curriculum, including assessment tools and core constructs of effective reasoning.

Innovations in educational technology have often sparked dramatic pronouncements, to be sure. Socrates, for example, famously observed that writing tools would impair people’s ability to remember. The Reboot Foundation recently explored the efficacy of education technology by analyzing two large achievement data sets. A growing body of evidence suggests that technology can have negative effects on student achievement.

Pseudoscientific beliefs can lead to weak or irresponsible decisions. Conspiracy theories, the paranormal, climate change and evolution denialism, Bigfoot: many Americans belive in these phenomena. In response, educators are testing ways that instruction on human error of perception and logic can train more critical thinkers.

Groupthink is the tendency to make decisions based on consensus, even if, individually, group members may find those decisions to be weak. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to avoid groupthink. There are new and powerful ways to teach people to be better, more independent thinkers. For one, people should be encouraged to play the devil’s advocate and help break up the norm of agreement. Along the same lines, people with a dissenting opinion should be encouraged to speak up, without negative consequences, so long as their opinion is fact-based and well-researched.