Critical Thinking is Impossible Out of Context

Part of thinking critically is knowing how to read something that was quoted out of context.

So much of what we see and hear on the news, from our friends, in magazines, on blogs, is only a mere snippet of the whole story.

And often times, that whole story is far more complicated than a mere black and white assesment of good or bad.

Homeschoolers are not immune to this, depending on the sources we use to learn, and the sources we choose to use as our basis of understanding. And obviously, there’s no way to know everything, so one does have to make an assessment based on the knowledge that we have access to.

Part of knowing how to think critically is to understand the relationship between the writer, the reader and the words. Just like gossip, words that other people have spoken can be used as a way to support an argument, or as a way to point at other people’s problems. Or they can be used as a basis for understanding.

The difference in approach resides purely in the filter of the reader. Even if a writer decides to use quotes to support his argument, the reader is ultimately responsible to decide whether or not those quotes are reliable or even pertinent. And then, the reader is in the position to take the quotes at face value, or to accept the possibility of other possible interpretations.

A critical thinker knows their own mind. And being confident in one’s stance makes it much easier to take new ideas and put them into perspective. The different between a critical thinker and a stubborn right-fighter is how a person digests new information – is new information a threat or an opportunity?

In the end, homeschoolers have an awesome opportunity to allow children to learn how to know when something is in a relevant context, and if it’s not, to either find out what that context was, or to avoid getting caught up in the logical gossip that is so often tied to emotional response.

The internet has become one of the most flexible mediums of communication – and one of the most self-moderating. If I quote something out of context, without a link, it immediately becomes irrelevant. To back up my claims, I need to provide a link to the source. And when I do, I better not have twisted someone’s words, because there will always be someone who follows that link and reads the whole context of my quote.

Even though the internet is not perfect, there is no excuse for the reader to blindly believe anything he sees there, because the source and even a myriad opinions on the source are just one click away.

Once you get to read the source, and if you’re lucky enough to find commentary about the source that provides a wide variety of opinions – that’s when critical thinking starts. That’s the key to critical thinking – seeing things from many different angles, then making a conclusion based on that – even if that conclusion may be something that nobody else agrees with.

When I first started homeschooling, I read some advice in one of the many homeschooling magazines I subscribe to that basically said this (I’m paraphrasing from my own memory):

Read about homeschooling everywhere you can. And don’t just read about the kind of homeschooling and education you are comfortable with. Read about the kinds of education you have no interest in, that don’t make sense to you, that are different than what you already do. Read about it all. Only then can you make a good assessment about how to learn in your family, and then feel confident that you made the right choice.

I took that advice, and still do. And it makes a world of difference for me. Having so many perspectives on education allows me to know who I am and what works for us. It helps me make a choice I feel good about, because, I made a clear choice, knowing full well what all the options are.

I believe this is true with any conclusion we make. The conclusion itself is not nearly as important as how we got there.


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