Four factors shaping our context

As we explore critical reading and critical thinking, it’s useful to start with some sense of the context we are all living in. We see this context being shaped by four key factors:

1. Daunting levels of information complexity

We live in a time of near boundless information creation and dissemination. Understanding and making meaning with dizzying levels of information is no easy task for students, let alone adults. Much of this complexity can be traced to our hyper-connected relationship to the Internet and wireless technologies, which continue to permeate and dominate many, if not most, aspects of our lives. We are but a keystroke, mouse click, or finger swipe away from a near limitless stream of video clips, blog entries, news articles, social networking messages, and more.

2. We tend not to think well

In contrast to what we’d all like to think about ourselves, we often are not careful and critical thinkers. We tend not to engage in what Nobel Prize economist Daniel Kahneman calls slow thinkingthinking that is more considerate, logical, and disciplined. Rather, our decision-making is often more driven by emotions and instincts or by what Kahneman calls fast thinking. And we are all prone to a number of biases that influence how we process and understand events in our lives.

3. Need help to think better

As a result, we need help. Fortunately, there is no shortage of tools and resources – including knowledgeable others – to help guide us. What is especially important is to continually ask and explore core questions that affect our lives. Asking and exploring questions might be our most vital responsibility in the 21st century – a responsibility best undertaken in community with diverse others – so that we can help each other ask the right questions (the ones we wouldn’t necessarily ask), see things that we might otherwise miss, and to help each other recognize and explore alternative explanations, understandings, and solutions.

4. Act on available, yet limited knowledge

We act on what we learn. And we recognize that our decisions and actions are always based on limited, tentative, and contingent understandings. So we must be willing to revise our beliefs and understandings when we get new insights, new information, or new data. The ultimate goal is to support each other to identify and address pressing issues and problems in our society to envision and enact the ways we want to be with each other, to live the ways we want to live. 

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