Do you have any book recs about critical thinking/debate skills/media literacy?
Agh, off the top of my head that’s tough. There was a really great book I read about critical thinking for an archaeology class in undergrad but that was literal decades ago and I don’t have the book anymore. Most of my critical thinking training was, well, “on the job” as it were. I had a really good mentor who often modeled oppositional thinking for me – taking the opposing side of an argument in order to strengthen the one we were making, or in order to take it apart. He never “played devil’s advocate” for the sake of it – he just tried to always come at a question from all angles in order to make sure that the eventual answer was the strongest it could be.
Okay, I have one general recommendation for you and two weird workbook recommendations.
General recommendation: George Bernard Shaw. He was a playwright in the late 19th and early 20th centuries up through WWII (he lived to be 94 and only died when he fell down a flight of stairs, I’m pretty sure he’s an immortal who faked his own death). He was a Fabian, a vegetarian, an advocate for the total revision of the English language’s spelling structure, a genius, a feminist, to an extent an anti-racist, and a nutball. He wrote plays that deeply challenged peoples’ most basically held beliefs about the roles of women, violence, and politics in society. Some of his stuff is a little dated compared to Tumblr discourse, but watching his characters challenge basic assumptions is a great way of learning how to think about the most deeply held and unquestioned beliefs we have. Try Mrs. Warren’s Profession (sexism), The Devil’s Disciple (one of my particular favorites, mostly religion), or Major Barbara (violence and industry) to start with. His short plays are quite good too.
And here are two exercises you can do:
Go to www.chick.com and read any comic you like. As you read, position yourself in opposition to whatever the comic is advocating, and work out how you would argue against it. If you can’t, google around a little for how other people may have argued. There are very few things that are wholly and entirely wrong in this world, but I believe Chick Tracts are one of them; they are evil and predicated on preying on hate and fear, but they’re good practice. You can confidently assume that they are wrong, so the workout is to figure out HOW they are wrong and how you would refute them. (This is presuming you don’t have past traumas associated with religiously driven *ism that make it hard to read these – if you do, don’t do this, it’s not worth it.)
(I once decided to really apply myself to getting to the root of chick tracts, and I discovered that there is no root. These comics are not produced by a church or a ministry; they’re just a company that caters to a specific brand of evangelical church, which is why they are so generic and so much about what you should hate, as opposed to what you should have love and compassion for.)
You can also find and watch any episode of Ancient Aliens, or any television show that features Giorgio Tsoukalos, Erich von Daniken, or David Childress. The theories of Ancient Aliens are full of “science” so you will probably have to google for refutations, but you can study how they are refuted by real scientists and also you can pick apart how the show presents speculation as truth (the most obvious technique is to ask a question and then say “the answer may lie in [total change of subject]”). The whole alien debate is full of both whackjobs and earnest, dedicated scientists, and you can learn a lot from both.
One final thing I will say, and again this was taught to me by my mentor, is that critical thinking is not about winning. That is the opposite of critical thinking. Critical thinking is about learning, and discerning truth not just from lies but also from ego. You don’t use critical thinking to trick yourself or others into affirming a position that you know to be wrong; you use it to study your position and, if necessary, change it. It requires humility as well as diligence. But the upside is that once you know you are right, you have a myriad of tools at your disposal to prove it.
Readership, recommendations for books and websites about critical thinking, debating, and media literacy are welcome – toss ‘em in comments or reblog, as per usual I don’t repost asks in response to other asks.