The Importance of Critical Thinking – Strategies for Change – Session One 2022

In our very first Strategies for Change session this year we kicked off with welcomes and introductions to 18 new participants. We then settled ourselves into listening to Dr Máire Ní Mhórdha from NUI Maynooth. She joined us to talk about and discuss the importance of critical thinking.

The Importance of Critical Thinking

So, to start the conversation around critically thinking Maire asked the group what they thought it was, what does it mean and why is it so important. Feedback included:

Not just “excepting something as is”, “need to be able to weigh it up in your own head” – important “not to take anything at face value”
“To be able to look at and form your own opinions and thoughts about something” – look at whatever the information is, make up your own opinions/thoughts by listening too, reading, and learning from real expert/s to help you to become more informed.

What is Critical thinking

Critical thinking is about not accepting something at face value. It is about being able to form your own opinions and assessments. Maire told us that this was a very interesting topic right now because we
have just experienced two years of a pandemic where even the idea of critical thinking was “kinda hijacked”.

There were a lot of people making lots of different claims about vaccines and mask wearing and some of this information was not coming from reliable sources. Maire went on to say that it is “vitally important for all of us to question and understand where our information is coming from”. Particularly in these times where social media is on tap and we must be able to ask the right questions and look for the correct answers.

At the end of the day, we are all critical thinkers; some feedback from the group included:

  • being a critical thinker can be just about putting your two feet on the ground when you get up in the morning and taking steps to do or decide what you are going to do for the day – it is part of everyday life
  • going to a restaurant that friends have recommended as opposed to just going somewhere that you haven’t heard off or  tried out 

We make all kind of decisions all the time – we are taking the information in – making sense of it – categorising it – seeking reliable sources. So, friends can be a very reliable source because they will know probably what kind of food you like or what type of place you like.

  • I am a wheelchair user so whenever I go out and about, I tend to become aware of the environment – it is suitable for wheelchair users and every building I go into I do the same, it’s just second nature to me

As disabled people we have a clear understanding and analysis of how the world works because it has not been constructed to meet our needs. So, in a way we have an advantage because we have to critically think all of the time. Critical thinking is also about having the ability to think for yourself, and there are tools to improve our critical thinking and there are tools that we can apply to help us do this. Critical thinkers ask questions to find out more information. They compare facts and create their own conclusions. Children are “fantastic critical thinkers because they are natural critical thinkers. They “just ask questions and they don’t just accept an answer, they want to know why, how, when…and they come up with their own conclusions”. But sadly, a lot of us lose this curiosity through the educational system.

Below are the tools that we can use to support us to think critically – all are interlinked

The Importance of Critical Thinking
  • Being able to effectively communicate is essential – this is about the receiving of and sharing of information. It is also about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information, being given, as well as being able to clearly say what you mean. Actively listening to fully understand what is being said is also vital – see (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lkb7OSRdGE&list=RDLV2Lkb7OSRdGE&index=1
  • Being open minded means being willing to listen to new ideas, new arguments, and new information that you might not necessarily agree with but are willing to listen to learn more
  • Problem solvers are open minded people. They ask questions while trying to work out the problem in a strategic way. They try to name the problem, then they try to understand it, then ask themselves how important it is, then seek solutions and decide on the best course of action
  • Problem solvers are creative (they think outside the box) and they  analyse in order to understand more, breaking it down to understand its core – see – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd9MZdB1ItU). 

5 Tips to Improve Your Critical Thinking

5 Tips to improve your critical tinking chart

  1. Formulate your question – clearly understand what the question is 
  2. Gather information – we have information at our fingertips as we all have access to the Internet so it’s about looking for information – looking for answers – looking at sources that are reliable – ideally based on some kind of research 
  3. Apply that information to the question – does this help me to answer that question 
  4. Consider the implications – what does that mean, what are the implications
  5. Explore other points – so again we are living in an information age, but we are also living in an age of lots of conspiracy theories and there is a lack of trust in institutions – Maire told us about a colleague of hers – she completed a research project on people who were refusing to take the HPV vaccine (cervical cancer vaccine was given to girls I think age 13 or 14) in Ireland. And through this research she found out (she spent a lot of time with people who were campaigning on this issue) that people had a fundamental lack of trust in the Irish healthcare system.

Thoughts From Group

  • It can be difficult to find sources and especially if you are looking for academic peer reviewed sources because a lot of them are hidden behind paywalls (pay to read or but published research)
  • I have been trying to keep up with the disaster that is happening in Ukraine, but it can be quite difficult because of all the different sources of information – “it’s kind of like been assaulted – what’s true and not true” 
  • I don’t think we can talk about information as being a neutral thing. I think enough of us here are aware that “official information has its own interests”. Certain people are “allowed to speak, and others are silenced”. So, if we ask critical questions openly, we can be punished. 

Question: So, Maire, are you saying that we should behave differently and use these tools “that’s gaslighting”. Using these critically thinking tools and tips can be part of the solution – we all know that we shouldn’t have to question things like having our human rights met or even being treated equally but “power” does get in the way, and it is these power structures and their systems that keep disabled people in their place. 

But Strategies for Change is bringing disabled people together from the four corners of Ireland, to formulate questions and to collectively learn the tools to strategise for real change. Because we all know that the powerful are never going to give up what they have even if they know there doing it wrong – so the power is “in the we, in the collective” to bring about change.

  • I think “social media is playing their own critical thinking game via conspiracy theories etc.… I have taken myself off Facebook – everyone’s information can be seen true and false”.

Media in general is a reflection of the world that we live in, so it is a neutral thing – people get to speak, share their stories and share information. But social media is not a neutral thing as it is a corporate form, it’s about making money. It can encourage conflict, and controversy. If “social media was a not for profit, it might be a different story”. Social media can reflect the biases and fears of a society but when you add the corporate click???

Research has shown that social media can be amazing, it can be liberating but it also can be potentially dangerous.

  • If we took “power out of the equation, then there would be less chaos”. If no one person or group had “the power”, everyone would be included… “I feel that power ruins everything”.

Disability is a social construct – meaning that it is man-made so this means that it can be deconstructed and that is what this course is all about – shifting the power relations – see – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-WJov26_iA).  Power in french means “to be able to do” – we need to understand that as individuals we have power in some domains, and we need to start exercising this power and get others involved (allies) – there is real strength in numbers.

Disinformation and Misinformation 

The difference between misinformation and disinformation:

  • misinformation is false information – it is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead – it is not intentional 
  • disinformation is deliberately misleading or subjective information; this involves the manipulating of stories or facts – it is fake – see – https://www.webwise.ie/teachers/what-is-fake-news/)  

Know that “Knowledge is socially constructed; bias is everywhere and good information matters”

5 tips to improve your critical thinking – Samantha Agoos – Click to watch
What is Critical Thinking (and Why Should I Care)? – Click to watch