Critical thinking is essential for good citizenship, a crucial interest of governments.
What Governments Can Do. Governments can encourage good thinking among citizens by encouraging it in their educational institutions, from primary to higher education. Support for the educatinal institutions and for their incorporating critical thinking in their curriculums are crucial to the development of a critically-thinking citizenry.
The Civic Value of Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is particularly important for ensuring that voters make well-considered selections and reasonably evaluate alternative policies proposed by government. Democracy itself is at stake. So democratic governments have a strong interest in the promotion of critical thinking within their educational systems. This also holds for governments that aspire to be more democratic than they are.
The Vocational and Personal Value of Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is also important for a citizen’s vocational and personal decisions and beliefs. A good government is concerned about the quality of life of its citizens, so it should be concerned about the vocational and personal applications of critical thinkng. For example, this would at least come under the goal of promoting the general welfare in preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Accountability. A currently popular stance among governments is to put pressure on their educational institutions by trying to hold them accountable for their results. Although it sounds like a good idea, there are dangers, including these:
· that the factors (such as one teacher, the other teachers, the school system, the parents, the peer group, the nature of the society in which the students find themselves, etc.) that are together responsible for the critical thinking results, or the lack thereof, are not the ones that get the credit or blame, which often gets assigned to only one of these factors;
· that the focus of the accountability system on particular subjects or student characteristics will result in the neglect of other equally important subjects or student characteristics;
· that the measures of the selected characteristics (such as critical thinking abilities and dispositions) might not be valid measures of the chosen characteristics in the particular population being assessed.
These and a number of other dangers are described in “Nationwide Testing of Critical Thinking: Vigilance Required“.