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Can you teach critical thinking skills without CRT or Race?

One of our supporters recently asked us this question, and short answer is yes!  And that is exactly how it should be first taught. 

Here’s why.

When you learn a new skill, you need to first learn the skill without any emotion, opinions, etc. getting in the way of learning. 

For example, take learning to drive.  You do not just jump in the car and head for the nearest freeway and learn along the way.  You take drivers education courses, you read books, you watch tutorials, you head to the nearest parking lot and practice as the person teaching you drives their foot through the imaginary break on their side.  You don’t just get in and drive and face the freeway.  You are put into a safe learning environment where you can succeed there, before facing tougher challenges like the freeway or the dreaded stopping on a hill. 

The same goes with any new skill you need to learn. 

Critical Thinking is a skill and challenging one at that.  We should not be learning this as we discuss heated, divisive, passionate topics.  We should first learn the skills in a safe, nonjudgmental scenario where we can learn how to think critically, the skills needed, what questions to ask, open vs. closed ended questions, the importance of listening to understand (vs to speak), and more. 

When teaching these skills, it is important that you first teach the skills and master them before diving into a divisive topic like race, immigration, etc.   You also need neutral coaches that are not going to push you into a viewpoint. 

Here’s why.

Imagine you were learning to drive and the drivers ed teacher decides that on your first day you are going to go out the freeway.  While you are heading out the teacher is teaching and coaching you all in the moment.  As you are making decisions you are told that is wrong, do it this way, think like this, ask this question, turn here, etc.

This approach would make this experience and learning this new skill a complete and total failure.  In fact doing it this way would have many question why you would teach someone to drive that way. .

Exactly the point. 

Why are we teaching kids to think critically with a topic that most adults can’t even handle calmly and expecting them to understand (and apply) the concepts of thinking critically while doing so.  Oh and make sure you stay neutral on the topic. 

It is not possible.  We are setting these kids up for failure. 

We need to first teach our kids to think critically in a safe and fair environment.  Allow them to learn the skills with scenarios, situations, etc. that have NO harm, are not divisive, and are not going to tear kids apart. 

For example, one we use in the corporate world is the deserted island scenario.  We first teach the skills of thinking critically.  The importance of asking questions, open-ended vs closed ended questions, what is the process for thinking critically, how do engage others, effective communication skills, etc.  Then we introduce the scenario that they are stranded on a deserted island with several items and for some unknown reason they can only keep 7 of these items.  They are to decide which items to keep and why.  They are to use their critical thinking skills to apply to this scenario and pick their 7 items.    

This is a ridiculous scenario.  I mean why would you be stranded and why would you only be allowed to keep so many items.

That is the point.

If we were to put you in a real scenario that you have lived through you would have all sorts of emotions, feelings about it, etc.  You would not be able to think critically about it.  You would bring those emotions into the scenario and would dismiss the new skills.  Because you know how you feel, and you need those feelings to be validated you would end up arguing your points, debating, and spending your time convincing others vs. looking at it critically. 

Everything you learned about thinking critically would go out the window. 

To avoid this and to ensure you apply these skills you are purposely put into a scenario that would most likely NEVER happen to you.  This allows you to focus on the skills vs the emotion around the scenario or topic.

Therefore, students should never first practice these skills on a hot topic.  Whether we realize it or not our emotions will take over and block our ability to use these skills. 

It is important that whenever we learn a new skill we do so in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. 

This CAN be done. 

So, the next time you are asked “how would you teach critical thinking without race” hopefully this equips you with some ideas.  As not only is it possible, but it is also the recommended way of learning all new skills. 

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