Critical Thinking

 

bookphone

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 5:14

This post is another theme has been rolling around in my head for a while. It was triggered by an editorial opinion piece by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Politics of ‘The Shallows’” on September 29, 2016.  While the topic of her editorial was specifically directed towards what ails American democracy, her topic is broader than that because it brings focus to a culture that has too much information to process, and too little thought.

Her headline includes a reference to a book entitled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. Carr’s book, written in 2011, is an interesting read on its own because it explains how the brain works and processes information and actually has the ability to reprogram itself.

Carr’s thesis is that the internet has caused changes in the brain in a culture addicted to digital technology, and those changes are not all good. Effectively, the digital world is reprogramming the wiring in our brains, both how we think and process information.

Both Pew and Barna have done studies regarding the millennials who generally don’t read very much, and are addicted to digital technology because of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out which is the topic of an earlier post).  It is not limited to politics – it encompasses all of their understanding of history, religion, the arts, as well as western thought.  Everything!

As Noonan writes: “This year I am seeing something, especially among the young of politics and journalism. They have received most of what they know about political history through screens. They are college graduates, they’re in their 20s or 30s, they’re bright and ambitious, but they have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is superficial.

They grew up in the internet age and have filled their brain-space with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned through sensation, not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. Reading forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect.”

She continues: “Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading about it shows you a dilemma. The book makes you imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events: It makes your brain do work.”  Note the last part – “it makes your brain do work”.  It’s not passive but active and it stimulates your brain to think critically and develop your own ideas about the topic at hand.  You have the chance to hear an argument and think about whether you agree with it or not, and if so, why not.

Peggy Noonan sums it up with this statement: “If you can’t read deeply you will not be able to think deeply. If you can’t think deeply you will not be able to lead well, or report well.”  As a mentor, this is instructive because it applies to the next generation who are digitally hooked on information which is generally very thin at details, nor requires any real thought or reflection – what educators call creating the ability to do critical thinking.  

Critical thinking is the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”  Sadly, it is a missing component in the next generation’s culture where often a judgment is formed based on “shallow” information without much thought or consideration.

In 2015, the Barna group did research on the amount of reading done in a digital environment – an environment where every day 2 million blog posts are written and 850,000 hours of YouTube videos uploaded along with 5 billion posts and content are shared on Facebook alone.

Here’s the sobering result: “Although fears of America becoming a post-literate culture may be overstated, they are not completely unfounded. A majority of the general population reads five books or less every year (67%). Broken down a little more, one-quarter of all adults don’t read any books at all (25%), while two out of five read anywhere between one and five books a year (42%). One-third of adults read five or more books a year (34%).

Among the generations, Elders are the true bookworms—with about one-quarter reading more than 15 books a year (23%). Gen-Xers read the least; the highest proportion—one-third (32%)—reports reading zero books at all.”

According to The Mindset List put out by Beloit College every year since 1998, the class entering college this year (called the Class of 2020) think that books have “always been read TO them on audible.com.” This is the Class that was born in 1998 and are mostly 18 years old. For those wanting to engage the next generation, the authors of The Mindset List provide several questions which would be useful for mentors.

While that is encouraging, I’m not sure it is the equivalent of actually reading the book and being able to stop and reread a section to be sure you understand what was written. Listening to an audio book or watching the movie is not equivalent to reading. In my own experience, whenever I have read the book and seen the movie, I usually consider the book better because it contains all of the nuances of character building and plot that is missed when it is translated onto the screen.

I find this trend highly disturbing.  I’m an avid reader and always have been.  I read the Wall Street Journal daily, along with World Magazine and The Economist, and usually I’m working through several books at the same time. My current books include Bonnhoefer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy, by Eric Metaxis, I just finished It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies by Mary Eberstadt which should be required reading.

My nightstand has a copy of The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges which I’ve really enjoyed.  Couple that with a couple of non-fiction books, and you get the picture. And, although the research by Barna and others is based on studies done in the U.S., I believe that the phenomena is more universal based on conversations with people outside the United States.

A couple of futurists out there – Tim Elmore and Ralph Ennis, for two – have authored books that cater to the younger image driven generation. Tim has created a series called Habitudes (available at Amazon) and Ralph has written a book entitled Worth a Thousand Words: The Power of Images To Transform Hearts.  Both authors integrate pictures into their text because this new generation is more connected to images.

Where does this end?  Well, as a mentor and now writer, I can only encourage others to read. My own son was probably an example (and not a good one, I might add).  He bragged that he had gone through High School without reading a book. That’s almost unthinkable.

Fortunately, due to a skiing accident, he postponed going to college for a year and instead, spent 6 months with his older sister in Australia and New Zealand where there was no television. For entertainment, he began to read and quickly learned to love it.  I personally think that his learning to enjoy reading was a turning point in his education because he did well in college.

So the challenge is clear:  we need to encourage the next generation to dig deeper than the screens on their mobile phones or computers. We need to encourage reading.  Reading is actually easier today with the advent of Kindle which permits the easy downloading of books onto any device.

I’ve used it with my friends overseas and can supply them books via Kindle as a gift where getting a hard copy is almost impossible (the cost of sending the book often is several times the actual cost of the book). In interacting with my mentees, I often ask what books they are reading and suggest ones that I think might be appropriate to their circumstances.  It’s easy to do – you can do it too, and our next generation of leaders will be better off for your encouragement.

Bill Mann

FURTHER STUDY:  Barna: The State of Books and Reading in a Digital Age https://www.barna.com/research/the-state-of-books-and-reading-in-a-digital-world/

Peggy Noonan: The Politics of ‘The Shallows’ http://on.wsj.com/2dh82Ad

Nicolas Carr: The Shallows- What Internet is Doing to Our Brains: https://www.amazon.com/Shallows-What-Internet-Doing-Brains/dp/0393339750/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1475761574&sr=8-3&keywords=the+shallows

A New York Times editorial entitled Intimacy for the AvoidantI: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/opinion/intimacy-for-the-avoidant.html?mc=aud_dev&mcid=fb-nytimes&mccr=MidMCTest&mcdt=2016-10&subid=MidMCTest&ad-keywords=AudDevGate&_r=0

The Mindset List can be found at:  https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/   The questions for mentors are found here:  https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2020/guide/

Tim Elmore’s series called Habitudes can be found at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=habitudes

Ralph Ennis’s book Worth a Thousand Words is available on his website:http://www.ralphennis.com/image-series.html

WORSHIP: Listen to Hillsong sing “From the Inside Out” which has the lyric in the chorus ”Consume me from the Inside out.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqwsWocqfTY

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post.  I often don’t get much feedback, yet many who read these have told me they enjoy my posting. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

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2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking

  1. Bret Batchelder says:

    Thanks, Bill. Valid points and timely reminder of the importance of reading and deep thinking. Appreciate your leadership in that regard.

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