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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Our Culture of (a lack of) Critical Thinking

The world seems to be in flux a lot these days.

It needs its people to be active and engaged in critical thinking. Because without critical thinking, there can be no action. But it seems to me that there is not enough critical thinking in our society, at least here in Canada compared to certain other parts of the world.

Many months ago in Vancouver, I sat down for drinks with a couple of roommates from France, and our conversation took off weaving through deeply philosophical topics, as is my tendency to do. After the conversation the French natives told me that they never once had such a deep conversation with any other Canadian since arriving.

They told me that in France, people have a very deep rooted culture of critical thinking and holding their governments accountable, born out of the French Revolution several centuries ago. When they go to the bar to drink, they typically talk about their country, how it's running, and what its governments needs to do differently. Here in Canada, they observed, people don't talk about anything with substance.

They told me that there are protests in France virtually everyday, and that they are commonplace enough events that they don't make the news. Conversely, it seems, in Canada when it happens, it's a big deal that's all over the news. Barely anyone protests, and when they do, they're seen as crazy.

I reminded them that an ex-roommate of ours, also from France, easily went off on passionate rants about global issues, making even me uncomfortable at times, something pretty hard to do. They told me that his behaviour was very typical of their fellow countrymen.

Only about a few weeks ago, I had coffee with a German friend and we talked about the same thing. She told me that in Germany, after high school, all young people must attend a course that teaches critical thinking, in order to qualify for post secondary (I believe a French friend also told me this). For me, this verifies my experience meeting German travellers, for I have met many who express strong critical thinking ability, coupled with fluent English, making them very fun (fun for me anyway) to converse with. I also sense that a residual guilt from WWII that's still drilled into the young people in grade school, gives them extra motivation to change the world.

My German friend also shared similar experiences to my French friends, about not being able to connect with their Canadian coworkers during social gatherings for the same reasons.

Looking back on these conversations, it seems obvious to me that there is quite a difference in our cultural attitudes towards critical thinking reflected not only in the bars and in the public squares, but in how we educate our youth. Our education is a very monotonous and rote experience, preparing us to be obedient workers.

If we want our country to move forward into the future, we need to learn from France and Germany among other European countries. We must learn to hold our governments accountable, but in order to do that, we must engage and stimulate our youth through encouraging critical thinking.