With the proliferation of unreliable “news,” and the danger it poses to the democratic process, it’s more important than ever for schools to cultivate students’ ability to think critically. It can be done, but there’s no quick fix.
In this election season, commentators have been calling on educators to teach critical thinking. The prevalence of fake news has only increased since 2016, despite the efforts of tech companies to screen it out. And many students, like many adults, have shown a dismaying inability to distinguish reliable information from falsehoods.
Fake news may be a new concept, but we’ve been trying to boost critical thinking for decades – without much success. As far back as 1983, a government report lamented that many high school students lacked “higher order intellectual skills.” That led to a proliferation of programs designed to teach critical thinking, including one that sold more than 70,000 teacher guides. By 1990, most states had launched such initiatives.
Recently, new programs have sprung up that aim to teach critical thinking skills through online games, revolving around fantasy football or issues like “student life.” There’s even an “education edition” of the video game Minecraft. Is this current crop of initiatives any more likely to produce the kind of critical thinking that is vital to the continued functioning of democracy?