A Discussion on the Issue of the Lack of Critical Thinking in Adolescents

Emily half-heartedly attends school, comes home, turns on the computer and mindlessly browses Facebook, Youtube, and other social media sites for hours while feasting on a microwaveable dinner. Every day is the same, relentless drill. This is the overarching picture of the next generation of young Americans. Because they lack critical thinking, mindless activities tend to take advantage of their precious time and energy, signaling that our next generation will be one of clueless, unproductive individuals. However, there is one savior, and that is higher education beyond high school. While most American teenagers tend to be like Emily, most of them do decide to pursue a college education, a path that breaks the cycle of this mindlessness and transitions them to maturity and adulthood.

In the article “The Difference between High School and College,” Jack Meiland says that college education brings about new types of intellectual work in the lives of young adults on an unparalleled level. These new intellectual experiences, he says, are what truly defines a “higher” education and is what makes us contributive and effective individuals in society. In college we typically are exposed to thinking rationally, independently, and clearly – all parts of critical thinking. It brings us to a higher level of mental state and effectively enriches our lives by introducing complex levels of analysis, processing, concentration, and abstraction. Because critical thinking bridges the gap to adulthood, determines career success, and fosters societal change, it should be preserved as the most important purpose of higher education.

When we are young, we’re naïve yet also curious about the world around us. Our introduction to concepts, beliefs, and morals are dictated by those closest to us; family, closest friends, and teachers tell us what to believe and help differentiate between the bad and the good. We take their word for it based on their power over us and our dependence on them. Youngsters, who do not have the mental capability to analyze and interpret ideas and arguments are introduced to this world through factual information and assumed truths. According to Meiland, this type of learning is based on a “position of authority.” Most of what we learn as youngsters are presented in an “authoritative manner – almost as if they were absolutely and eternally true” (Meiland 3).

For example, children can learn and then assume that it is wrong do discriminate based on race and sex, but fail to grasp bigger concepts of human rights and ethics. From elementary school to high school in a public setting, these lessons are taught through memorization of facts, ideas, and techniques. This kind of learning and approach receives a harsh barrier in the environment of a higher education. Many, if not all institutions of higher learning make a commitment to introduce learning that includes critical thinking, or “critical examination and evaluation”(Meiland 4). Unlike before, this not a technique that can be memorized; rather, it is a way of life that affords an open but critical mindset in looking at the world. Higher education makes it clear that the beliefs we hold are only one set of beliefs subjective to us that attempt to explain the truth. People hold a multitude of differing beliefs, so in thinking critically we should not take each one at face value, but by its merits or ideas, arguments, and evidence.

Most importantly, critical thinking teaches not to judge based on prejudice or personal emotional factors. In doing so, critical thinking in a setting of higher education will help us transform the way we view the world by promoting excellence in thought; questioning and looking at all beliefs objectively and evaluating them is a catalyst for rational development. In accepting critical thinking as a way of life, young adults can finally learn to think for themselves and be independent.

Besides aiding in the transition to adulthood, critical thinking also comes to determine career success. Many view college education solely for the purpose of attaining a specific pool of knowledge, earning a degree, and at last landing a job with a decent paycheck. Higher education, however, is about much more than the sole purpose of employment and that first substantial job. It impacts the decisions and paths that we take throughout our careers.

As of today, we can see that the number of jobs that require following step-by-step instructions is dwindling. Ever since the end of World War II, the service sector of the United States has been growing, while jobs that require hard labor like those in manufacturing are disappearing and moving into developing countries because of rising domestic standards of living (Fuchs 13). How can one measure their ability to perform if jobs no longer require physical stamina and performance? One large factor in determining a person’s aptitude and ability in the service sector is their mental capability. For example, careers in marketing, finance, health, and industrial design all require critical thinking. Namely, to be a competitive individual in these areas one must be able to creatively analyze, evaluate, and conceptualize problems and solutions.

At the University of the Pacific, Dr. Jim Uchizono of the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy proposed various situations in which critical thinking is required during a career as a pharmacist. He asked if students would risk their career when they are already in financial debt to step in and intervene on a patient’s behalf to protect his or her life against the policy of an employer. The question to potentially save a patient’s life versus saving your own financial one is a dilemma that requires careful thought about ethics and human rights. Going against authority and refusing a patient a drug that may fatally impact them is honorable and ethical. Realistically, however, Dr. Uchizono said that most people would be too concerned in saving themselves and their careers over someone else’s life. Besides being required to be competitive in the workforce, situations such as these require critical thinking to make the best and most rational decision.

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