The most important thing for teachers to teach their students is how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking is integral to deep learning and understanding. It is the mental process of analyzing or evaluating information that leads to a problem solving mindset.
One of Aesop’s fables, “The Man, the Boy and the Donkey” is a good illustration of how not utilizing the skills of critical thinking can be detrimental to allowing individuals to problem solve effectively. As the story goes, a man and his son who lived in the mountains had the objective to take their donkey to the city marketplace in order to sell the donkey so they would have money to buy the provisions they needed to survive the upcoming winter. As they began their journey, the boy rode the donkey and the man walked. They passed through the first village on their way to the marketplace where several villagers scoffed at them saying, “How inconsiderate that the boy would ride the donkey and make his father walk.” After hearing this critique, the man rode the donkey and the boy walked. Then as they traveled through the next little hamlet, the people pointed their fingers and shouted, “How inconsiderate that the man would be so selfish and ride the donkey and make the boy walk.” So, again listening to the opinions of the people, the man and the boy rode the donkey together. When passing through the next village on their way to the marketplace, the people gathered and mocked the travelers saying, “How inhuman for the man and the boy to both ride the donkey and overburden this poor animal.” Hearing these dissenting voices, the man and the boy both walked alongside the donkey. Then, while traveling through the last small town on their way to the marketplace, the onlookers laughed, “How stupid for the man and the boy to walk and not ride the donkey and use this beast of burden for which it was created. Finally, in total frustration, trying to please all the people who offered advice, the man and the boy rode the donkey together until it collapsed. The donkey had to be carried into the city where the people in the marketplace sneered, “Who wants to buy a worthless donkey that cannot even walk into the marketplace?” The man and the boy failed in their objective to sell the donkey and acquire provisions for the winter.
When excellent teachers teach their students how to think critically, it helps them deal with current and future challenges in their lives more skillfully. It broadens life experiences and helps students gain a more meaningful perspective. Here are some suggested steps to critical thinking as it relates to problem solving:
- Identify the problem
- Analyze the problem; look at it from different angles
- Brainstorm and come up with several possible solutions
- Decide which solution fits the situation best
- Take action (essentiallifeskills.net)
In the fable, “The Man, the Boy and the Donkey,” if the man and the boy would have acquired the skills that accompany critical thinking, they would have been better equipped to solve the problem they faced. Before their journey, the man and the boy could have decided that the man would ride the donkey for the first third of the journey. The boy would ride the donkey the second third of the way and they would both walk the final third of their trek. That way the donkey would arrived in the marketplace fresh and strong and ready to be sold. Then on their journey, as the man and the boy received conflicting advice, they could have given each other a reassuring wink of the eye and said, “we have a plan.”
A.E. Mander wrote, “Critical thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically without learning how or without practicing. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge builders, or pianists.”
Along with teaching specific curriculum content, we applaud our excellent teachers who teach students the importance of gaining skills associated with critical thinking and problem solving.
Lex L. Puffer