Critical Thinking

thinkerby Tina Olesen

Many of our students are wading perilously through the glut of misinformation and propaganda proliferated by the media and internet, without the tools to think critically about what they are taking in. We have the responsibility to train our future leaders to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and quality of information.

Before the internet, mainstream media remained competitive by providing high quality information. Accuracy was valued, and procedures were in place to verify information. To a degree, accountability was built in to the process.

In the internet age, we now enjoy free flowing information and up to the minute news, which is mainly uncensored. Anyone can publish anything at any time, without having to convince anyone to publish it. There is no “gatekeeper.”

This means virtually no earthly accountability – which can be a recipe for anarchy. Scammers, con-artists, crooks, propagandists and predators have made the most of this environment, and many children are unprotected from these outlaws.

On average, children are exposed to 7.5 hours of media a day, seven days a week — that’s more time than they spend in a classroom.  Children watch an estimated 40,000 TV commercials per year (over 100 a day).

The US Department of Education reported that 81% of children aged 2 – 7 watch TV unsupervised. In a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of kids surveyed had no rules about what they are allowed to do on the computer. 71% of these kids had a TV in their bedroom. 66% of them had a mobile phone (about 25% of 9 and 10 year old Canadians have a cell phone). That’s a lot of potentially unsupervised access to media.

Advertising to children is now big business, with American companies spending approximately $17 billion on this in 2009, at least doubling what they spent in 1992. The US Federal Trade Commission reported that 80% of R-rated films and 70% of adult rated video games were targeted to children under 17.

Marketers attempt to shape values, change attitudes, and direct behaviour. While in the past, stories were used for the moral training of our children, in today’s culture, stories are used by marketers to sell their products.

Marketers use media and mind manipulation to sell a moral value system that supports the behaviour that they wish to encourage, creating a “need” for their products. Traditional biblical moral values and character qualities that were once readily recognized as admirable are now out of style.

The change over the last few decades has been dramatic. When I was a girl, a Nancy Drew mystery was considered junk food reading. She solved crimes and helped people. Today’s girls read stories about vampires, who suck the life out of people.

The vampire romance series for young people, Twilight, written by Stephenie Meyer, has spawned several films and much merchandise. The estimated total franchise sales of this series is $5,736,100,000 – no small potatoes.

Mind manipulation’s aim is moral sell out. Marketers want you to lust after their products. If the manipulators can move you away from making moral choices, they’ve done their job. The aim is to have you choose not to delay gratification, put another person’s interests ahead of your own, or discipline yourself to do something that you don’t want to do. Lust was defined by Oswald Chambers as an attitude of “I must have it at once!

Moral choice making, on the other hand, results in moral character development. Children who do not make moral choices and act on them do not morally mature. This arrested development affects every aspect of their lives, including intellectual progress; but especially their relationships with others.

We can help our children develop a taste for good literature and worthwhile media by cultivating in them a love for that which is beautiful and true. We have to feed their imaginations on the good and honourable, so they will recognise the counterfeit. We need to help them to rejoice with the truth, both in our words and in our actions toward them.

Moral premises function as a foundation for all rational thought. The wise man builds his house upon the Rock of Christ. Without this foundation, thinking and conclusions will not be whole or coherent. As Ray Stedman said, “In the secular realms of knowledge there are great missing elements, great blanks, that the people of the world try to fill up in a dozen different ways, but only the church possesses the truth, the bread that can feed the hungers of life.”

We can expose the aim and tactics of marketers to our children. They can be trained to recognize faulty logic, invalid deductions, bias, lies, propaganda, and over-generalizations that do not line up with the biblical moral truth they have been taught. We can show them examples of mind manipulation and advertising strategies and give them the opportunity to practice uncovering the errors in thinking. With training and repeated practice, I have witnessed twelve year olds do this with skill.

It is important to embed critical thinking in everyday learning. When watching a program or reading an article together, stop and question it out loud. Ask them to uncover the writer’s bias, or any errors in thinking. Require them to evaluate any sources that they select as reference materials for their papers, and give them guidelines and checklists for evaluating the reliability of those sources.

We can equip our children to recognise what is morally good, and teach them to defend themselves against mind manipulation; both are needful.

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