Critical Thinking: An Essential Skill to Have in the Age of Disinformation

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Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

The Cambridge Dictionary defines critical thinking as “the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.” In other words, it is the idea of being critical or skeptical of any information one receives until it is properly vetted and found to be credible. This is a skill that has become increasingly more essential to have in today’s world of misinformation, fake news and so-called “alternative facts.” Indeed one of the greatest weapons of Stalinist Russia was their campaign of disinformation. “The English word disinformation is a loan translation of the Russian dezinformatsiya, derived from the title of a KGB black propaganda department. Joseph Stalin coined the term, giving it a French-sounding name to claim it had a Western origin.” The Russian government had an entire department dedicated to the spread of false information; a department that still exists today in some form. You can read more information on Russia’s modern disinformation program in the New York Times article entitled A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories. It is now common knowledge that the Russian government has intentionally interjected false information into US social media platforms in order to disrupt our political process. Here is an extensive Senate report detailing the findings of a long term investigation of Russian involvement in spreading misinformation. There is also a concerted effort to combat such disinformation.

Due to this intentional spread of false information It is ever more important that educators teach their students critical thinking skills. Our society is becoming increasingly more reliant on digital media for information and it is essential that we can tell the difference between that which is true and that which is false. Whether people are reading news articles, scanning websites or watching Youtube videos to get their information it is absolutely critical in our times that we understand how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable information. Below I have provided some lesson plans teachers can use to help their students hone their critical thinking skills.

Developing Students’ Critical Thinking Skills Through Whole-Class Dialogue
Critical Thinking Lesson Plan
Creativity/Problem Solving/Critical Thinking Lesson Plans and Resources
Critical Thinking Skills Teacher Resources
Critical Thinking Resources for High School Teachers
A Teacher’s Guide to Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking in Social Studies
Critical Thinking and the Social Studies

6 Comments

  1. I cannot count how many times people have brought up the news they saw on Facebook and taken that as fact. It is also too common for people to rely on a single source or social media and run with whatever they hear or read without really taking the time to think critically; people have a tendency to find information that backs their claims or triggers their emotions and use that as support instead of finding the root of where/ who this news is coming from. Critical thinking is a skill that, while taught at school, is lost as it is seen as only having a use when writing a paper.

  2. Throughout a child’s schooling career, they are taught how to think critically, beginning with simple tasks such as sorting and categorizing items to eventually questioning what is seen on television and on social media. Over time, information gets twisted and changed as it travels from median to median and it is up to critical thinking skills to decompose the information shared publicly. Critical thinking can help one decide whether the information is dramatized or not. As a future educator, I believe that is it my job to find and deliver students viable information from trusted sites and authors. Currently, it is hard to depict what is and is not true online because there are so many different platforms but with critical thinking and common sense, the false information can be eliminated.

  3. I think that being a good critical thinker is a very important skill for all students to have in society today, and also to be taught in the classroom. Critical thinking requires much more thought and higher order thinking skills such as analyzing, applying, synthesizing, and evaluating.I will make sure to teach my future students the skills that I just mentioned in the lessons that I plan for them once I get my own future classroom.I will make it a priority to incorporate higher order thinking skills into my lesson plans.I will definitely make sure that I remember to teach my future students about what critical thinking is, what being a critical thinker requires, how being a critical thinker is beneficial and why we should all be critical thinkers everyday.After all critical thinkers are the best and smartest types of thinkers! 🙂

  4. I couldn’t agree more! Critical thinking is a necessary 21st century skill. It needs to be taught and developed just like any other skill. I would go as far as saying it may be even more important than others. Critical thinking is a skill that can be utilized in every aspect of life. The future will bring problems we can’t even imagine and in order to solve them we will need creative critical thinkers. The links you shared have some great ideas for how to help our students develop critical thinking skills, and I will certainly be using them. Thank you!

  5. As soon as I started reading this article, the media and news stations came straight to my head. For this sole purpose of disinformation, I tend to shy away from watching the news. Critical thinking is something so important, yet the media does not even take it into account, because nowadays, unfortunately, the authenticity of the information is not important, but rather just getting the headline out and making money is all that does matter to them.. Therefore, it is important that teachers educate their students on the importance of critical thinking so that we can make a change in the world, for the better.

  6. If there is anything at all that I have spent the last few years agonizing over, it is this topic. With the continuing spread of disinformation in every facet of our lives now, I fervently agree that the need for advanced critical thinking skills is the first line of defense in combating false information. There are individuals in society that seek or create information that they believe proves their hypotheses or stances without knowing how to do proper research into a topic. By teaching how to research along with critical thinking skills, most students should be able to identify shoddy or falsified research almost instantaneously. If we can facilitate students who question, then we have done our job.

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