When we think critically, we decide whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. Critical thinking skills can be learned, mastered and used. However, our thinking, left unchecked, can be biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced.
A good use for these critical thinking skills would be when we hear about Stranger Danger Alerts, whether on the news or from neighbors. When we hear these stories, we should raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
According to a Houston area news report, an elementary school girl reported that a man driving a white van followed her home from the bus stop.
According to the little girl, the vehicle stopped in front of her house, but drove off when her neighbor drove up the driveway.
Police said the suspect did not talk to the student or make direct contact with her. Nothing happened in this instance.
When you read something like this, think critically and ask yourself a few questions.
An elementary school girl said a man driving a white van "followed her home."
Is it possible that he is dangerous? Of course. We should all be alert for anyone who would pose a threat to children.
The report says that he stopped in front of her house. But he made no contact with her. He drove off when the neighbor pulled up in her driveway.
Hopefully, we all pull to the side of the road when checking directions or making a phone call. Maybe his call was complete or he figured out his directions at the same time the neighbor drove up the driveway.
Is it newsworthy? Not really. Nothing happened.
Is it possible her parents are making her suspicious of any white van? Yes.
If the car was a red sedan, would there have even been a story? Probably not, because again, nothing happened.
Why would a real criminal use a white van anyway when everyone is on alert for them? He would steal a completely different car, so people would have their guard down.
Teaching children critical thinking skills will keep them safer than teaching them to panic when they see a white van. Parents and children need to be aware, informed, and be capable of hearing news and deciphering whether it is biased, distorted, true, partially true, or false.
Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008