American culture constricts critical thinking

Back in June, the national media hemmed and hawed when the Texas GOP came out with a platform which included an education plank opposing “the teaching of … critical thinking skills.” Though it later came out that including this phrasing in the platform was a mistake due to oversight, it seems to me this “oversight” might have been a good ole’ fashioned Freudian slip. Though under normal circumstances, very few in our society would verbally advocate against critical thinking skills, examining the actions and norms of our society reveals that mainstream American culture discourages critical thinking.

We see it, perhaps most obviously, in the way we teach history in schools. History (among other subjects) is taught from a singular, presumably “correct,” point of view.

Students are taught to value Christopher Columbus for discovering America, and they are rarely taught to consider the plight of Native Americans getting their land taken as more Europeans came to settle. Students are taught that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was an act of aggression, but rarely are they taught why Japan actually attacked.

By teaching from such a singular viewpoint, we prevent kids from learning the art of interpretation and, in effect, keep them from ascertaining the skill of critical thinking.

We tell them how to think rather than allowing them to think for themselves.

But K-12 education isn’t the only place where we see this kind of think-for-us attitude. We also see it in the media with the way that the government and news agencies determine what types of news stories are appropriate for the public. I recently had a conversation with a friend about the difference between the news in the United States and in France. She spent a year studying in France, and shared a story with me about how she and her host father had watched a news report about a nude bar, and how she had expressed that such a thing would never appear on TV in the United States because it would be considered inappropriate. The common argument is that this type of programming is left off the air in the U.S. to protect children from seeing that which is inappropriate for them, and there is some merit in such a caution. However, the danger with having such regulation regarding what can or can’t be shown on TV is that people begin to accept that nudity is not okay without thinking through the question of why—in other words, people accept the condemnation of such programming without critically thinking about the cause for its rejection.

Thinking about this conversation, I asked my 11-year-old sister why she thinks nudity isn’t generally seen on network TV. This is my little sister who can recite and explain all five protections granted by the First Amendment, and who made a sign and joined a protest when the local toy store was being fined for violating signage laws in my hometown. This is my little sister who usually has an opinion about everything.

However, her reply was: “People can’t be naked on TV because people will see them naked and that’s not appropriate.” But why isn’t it appropriate? And why doesn’t our culture encourage us to grapple with these questions?

It is worth looking at these and other examples of our culture stifling critical thinking, and considering the question of “Why?”

Lindsie Trego

Trego is a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication and English. Comments can be sent to lwagner14@my.whitworth.edu.