8. Critical Thinking and Progress
Critical thinking can help children not only learn to analyze the world around them, but act to try to change it. Good critical thinking can foster productive interests, deeper engagement with social problems, and the attitudes of good citizenship. In this way critical thinking is vital to social progress.
A goal (or a project or “dream”) is the meeting of, on the one hand, an idea born out of a need or desire and, on the other, a method—an “algorithm” for bringing the idea into reality. But these two dimensions to every goal are, in fact, two sides of the same coin, two facets of creativity.
As we have seen, the spark for critical thinking comes from self-esteem and unconditional love. This energy is indispensable to living with both a sense of joy and, at the same time, a continual dissatisfaction with the status quo. Taking joy in life is necessary to prevent this dissatisfaction from degenerating into depression or other pathologies. This joy provides the energy needed to turn dissatisfaction into ideas and dreams of change.
But in order for an idea to turn into a project capable of changing the world, both a methodology and logical, communicative rigor are required. These allow a large number of people to understand a problem in the same terms and gear themselves toward the same objectives. Without these tools, efforts at problem-solving tend to devolve into emotionalism or factionalism.
Methodological rigor is rooted in critical reasoning.
An education in critical thinking and reasoning is the best way to ensure a child can access goal-oriented thinking. A goal, much like the kind of formal logic we can exercise from the ages of 13 to 15, transforms the possible into the tangible.
Goal-oriented thinking leads children in their adolescence to join or set up active groups or associations. Activity in such groups requires skills in both logic and communication, and it tends to support their further development. It pushes those undertaking such projects to strike a balance between asserting themselves and listening to others—between critiquing and taking what others say on board.
In this sense, critical thinking and the drive it inspires to undertake projects can be a kind of citizenship training. To rigorously and plainly critique a complex system (whether it be political, scientific, or philosophical, theological) is always to act as a citizen. It is beneficial to all.
Critical thinking not only enables students to reach their intellectual potential; it can also help them find purpose and, through purpose, happiness.
In this way critical thinking not only enables students to reach their intellectual potential; it can also help them find purpose and, through purpose, happiness. And, ultimately, it can help foster progress and social cohesion through cooperative action.
These links between critical thinking, undertaking projects, and citizenship should further encourage parents and educators to guide children toward this spirit of joyful dissatisfaction, as well as toward logical reasoning and the art of arguing.
If this mindset is acquired, teenagers won’t need pressure from above to take action as citizens or to participate in projects for social change that are bigger than themselves. There always lies the risk that when parents mandate this kind of participation as a kind of chore, children will reject it out of principle.
Instead of hoping their children will swallow whole what is offered them, parents should encourage them to seek the truth—to learn to reason and argue. Those around them, and society as a whole, will benefit from their skills, their independence, and their spirit.