What essential principles of critical thought would you include in a high school level crash course on critical thinking?

Great question, thanks. Here are some fundamentals I would include, keeping the high school audience in mind:

1. The psychology of rationalization. I think this is probably the most important bit - learning just how creative human beings can be at inventing self-justifications for various beliefs or conclusions. An open class discussion that invites students to offer their own beliefs around a topic, then to critique rationalizing elements of each others’ reasoning, can be a great way to break the ice on critical thinking.

2. Common logical fallacies. After covering the basics, this can be turned into fun group exercises, where students “catch” each other making one or more errors while presenting their reasoning based on cases you provide (i.e. as they draw conclusions from a set of facts on a specific topic…)

3. The Socratic method. Seems like this could be a great in-class exercise, especially within a broader conversation about dialectics.

4. The flaws in empiricism, and the iterative process for truth. This can be a helpful longer-term homework assignment - giving students the names of researchers who have made incorrect assessments of their data (or been unable to clearly see what the data was really conveying), or where peer review and replication have reinforced incomplete or incorrect conclusions, etc. - and encouraging the students to find out what the errors were, why they may have occurred, and how the initial assertions were later revised by later research. This is a great way to “reverse engineer” critical thinking by helping students recognize real-world errors or incompleteness.

5. Freakonomics. Assigning the original book and/or some of the subsequent podcasts to help students sharpen their critical thinking skills and avoid jumping to “obvious” or premature conclusions.

6. Self-critique. If students are advanced enough I think a powerful culminating homework assignment could be having them identify their own patterns of logical fallacies, rationalizations, premature suppositions and errors in reasoning. This is, after all, what we would hope they will take with them into the real world.

If possible, I would also touch on the importance of emotions in what we believe to be rational thought or decision-making. Lots of good research on this.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-essential-principles-of-critical-thought-would-you-include-in-a-high-school-level-crash-course-on-critical-thinking

What are the biggest current blind spots or uninvestigated areas in sociology?

Thanks for the A2A, but wow this is a really broad question. Those familiar with sociology know it has almost endless specializations and variations - both theoretical and applied - so it is a bit difficult to generalize. Also I haven’t really kept up with the intradisciplinary literature for more than a handful of sub-specialties, so I’m likely only speaking to a very narrow slice of the overall picture. Lastly, I would say some of these issues apply to much of academia.

Hmmm…blind spots. Okay:

1. Predictive methodologies seem woefully underdeveloped in sociology. This would be an ideal field to aggregate diverse metrics for predictive analysis for all sorts of sociological impacts and change that are, in fact, already being studied independently of each other.

2. Postmodernism seems to have shattered interest in a cohesive theory of sociology. IMO, academia could and should be making a concerted effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I recognize that there have been recent individual efforts at doing this, but (and I’d love to be corrected on this point) I’m not aware of any sustained, broadly-inclusive, widely coordinated projects to resolve this lingering issue.

3. The distance between the dots in economic sociology that take on big-picture, meta-analysis of capitalism is far too great. When was the last major publication in this arena? Nee & Swedberg in 2005…or Fligstein’s work around the same time? And before them, Polanyi? And before that…Weber & Marx…? IMO such broad considerations should have been at the forefront of economic sociology in a consistent way. Too often this topic has been ceded to economists…who almost always arrive on the scene with an indoctrinated axe to grind. Again, though, please let me know if I’ve missed some notable, more recent contributions.

So there are three. Let me know what you think.

From: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-biggest-current-blind-spots-or-uninvestigated-areas-in-sociology-and-what-makes-them-difficult/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What in your opinion are some of the biggest problems with education and traditional educational institutions?

This is something I’m passionate about - having worked in both a K-12 school district and a large university, as well as being the son of a professor. Okay so, from a U.S. perspective, here goes…

The shift to STEM and business proficiencies, and away from liberal arts, is a symptom of one underlying problem: the belief that education should be about preparation for the workplace and high-paying careers. This is not what education should be about, IMO. If education was about workplace preparation, then why, at the dawn of public education, did we take children away from productive jobs at their family farms just to learn how to read? The whole idea was to enrich the mind of a student, help them see the world in larger ways and multidisciplinary contexts, and hopefully provide fundamental skills that would be applicable in ALL fields of study. Foremost among those skills are of course the ability to think critically, to challenge our own assumptions, to be curious about the unknown, and to improve our understanding and abilities. All other disciplines should be a natural consequence of this foundation. But that is not what our education system here in the States does. Not by a long shot. Instead, it conditions children and young adults to memorize and regurgitate with no sense of interdisciplinary context, no critical examination (other than perhaps an overarching self-doubt and depressive anxiety), and no real training in higher-order thinking. So these young people learn how to pass tests, please instructors, and obtain a decent GPA….In other words, with the exception of a few innovative programs, conscientious instructors and courageous students who break from these expectations, our education system is an utterly idiotic waste of time and energy.

How did this happen? Well it would be easy to blame crony capitalism - to say that the State is just trying to churn out obedient cogs for their corporate benefactors. And to some degree (certainly regarding the overemphasis on STEM) that is probably true. It might also be convenient to blame standardization and institutionalization…the bigger the system, and the more conformity to predefined metrics that is required, the more homogenous and “watered down” the outcome. We could also blame poor diets and lack of exercise: feed kids excessive amounts of sugar and fat, and make them sit around all day, and you’re not likely to get high-performance brain function out of them. But we could also throw in a slew of additional factors: stressful lifestyles, increases in Autism Spectrum Disorder, increases in drug abuse and mental illness in youth, the breakdown of the nuclear family, postmodern skepticism and individualistic materialism as cultural norms, a technological landscape that grow exponentially more complex by the day, ever-accelerating cultural changes…. In reality I suspect all of these things in fact contribute to the poverty of mind and heart we too often encounter in the modern educational system. It’s not any one thing…it’s a convergence of pretty intense modern causal factors.

So what’s to be done? In my opinion, we need to address as many of those underlying causal factors as we can, and quickly, rather than pretending there is some sort of systemic magic wand (i.e. Charter Schools, revised educational standards, free college, etc.). For example, high quality education is often a consequence the relationship between a student and their parents - and parental involvement in and support of the education process - when the student is young. Parents need to participate and invest emotionally. How can some new K-12 policy make that happen by itself? And if students aren’t empowered with a more participatory, democratic environment throughout their educational experience, why should they ever feel the urge to “learn how to think, question and learn?” To take ownership of their own learning process? In a top-down, dictatorial institutional model, it’s much easier to just find out what the instructor wants, and provide lock-step, superficial conformance to those expectations without really learning anything. So I think the real answer is a much more…structural one. It has to do with how we operate in society as a whole, how we model behavior for our young, what we value and how we embody those values. If those who “succeed” in our society are living stressed-out unhappiness, are in constant debt, hate their ass-kissing jobs, medicate themselves with reality TV and pharmaceuticals, don’t actively participate in civil society other than via self-destructive consumption, how can we expect young people to be any different…? Thus our education system can’t be adequately reformed until our society is.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-in-your-opinion-are-some-of-the-biggest-problems-with-education-and-traditional-educational-institutions)

How do I build interesting online courses for youngsters?

Answering the question: "How do I build interesting online courses for youngsters?"

Thanks for the A2A Roberto, but frankly I wouldn’t encourage it. I truly believe even the most advanced VR environment is no match for active learning among students in a live group - in the real world. Sure, there is a place for computer assisted learning, and I was there in the beginning when Oregon Trail and other such programs were introduced into K-12 here in the U.S. But our cultural screen-addiction will, I believe, ultimately be viewed as an antagonistic and even harmful trend, resulting in young adults whose knowledge, learning style, social skills, mental health, perceptive functions, physical well-being and intellectual capacities have all been hopelessly crippled by computer-based curricula (not by that alone, but in conjunction with a more general technology dependence).

I suppose this wasn’t what you were looking for, and I apologize for that, but having worked in IT, in education, for nearly a decade (four years in K-12, five in a University setting), I view the most essential elements of multidimensional learning to simply be outside the capacity of tech-centric modes. Being outside in natural environments, working in groups, having tactile learning experiences, performing physical tasks as part of the learning process, discussing, debating, questioning, socializing, and engaging with others in a joint learning adventure that is almost entirely outside of a representational world of computer graphics…these are the central characteristics of quality learning.

It is, after all, the real world that children most need to learn about, and beyond that what their own imagination can provide. A computer representation offers neither, and I believe can actually rob them of both.

My 2 cents.

If information is now available for everybody, What is the purpose of teachers?

In answer to Quora question "If information is now available for everybody, What is the purpose of teachers?"

A2A. My take is that teachers:

1. Help students learn how to think critically about information and how to evaluate it, and to not just absorb information indiscriminately.

2. Help students learn the various skills of research, the different qualities of information, the importance of the scientific method, ways to prioritize and organization information, ways to deepen understanding of subject matter, ways to ask probing questions about information - in other words, teachers help students learn how to learn.

3. Help students contextualize, correlate and interrelate information so that it can become useful knowledge.

4. Help structure the learning experience in a way that allows students to build on previous knowledge and create the requisite foundation for the next step in their understanding of a given field.

5. Help inspire students to discover and become interested in new information - or whole new fields of thought and experience - that they may never have been exposed to before.

6. Help students realize just how profoundly ignorant they are - no matter how much they think they know - to facilitate a necessary and perpetual humility and as an antidote to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

7. Help students overcome the natural fear of and resistance to learning something new or different, or something that contradicts what they already know, or something that revises their entire worldview.

8. Help students prepare for ever more rigorous, challenging, complex, sophisticated and/or specialized learning curves as they continue into higher levels of education.

So teachers do an awful lot - if they are skillful teachers.

My 2 cents.

Are our schools doing enough to inspire young minds to think rationally?

In answer to Quora question "Are our schools doing enough to inspire young minds to think rationally?"

A2A. I worked for many years in both K-12 and University environments, have friends who are professors and grade school teachers, watched my younger siblings and my wife's two children grow up through the American education system, and mentored young people of all ages. My observation from these experiences is that no, our schools are not doing enough to inspire young minds to think rationally. In fact, I think they mostly encourage the opposite: fine-tuning the art of test-taking and grade-making, conforming to unreasonable expectations, being confused about how knowledge is structured and interrelates, and generally encouraging children to become disinterested worker bees with uncritical minds and reflexively adopted habits and beliefs. But that's really not the fault of the schools. Not at all. There are some great teachers out there, some pretty interesting curricula, and increasingly sophisticated and engaging teaching technologies. But educational institutions are up against a juggernaut of commercialistic culture, parents with busy schedules, financially stressed communities, easy access to drugs and materialistic pursuits, and environments toxic with distracting gadgetry, Diabetes-inducing food, and a general isolation of the individual. And against this highly disruptive backdrop, schools don't really stand a chance. So I would counter: could schools ever do enough to inspire young minds to think rationally, when that isn't modeled anywhere else in their lives...? And the answer to that question would also be: no, they could not.

My 2 cents.