5 Takeaways From Our Interview with Jonathan Haber, Critical Thinking Expert

Haber discusses the future of critical thinking in education and how it affects our interactions with media, information, the classroom, and our peers.

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The Juice recently interviewed critical thinking expert and author Jonathan Haber to discuss all things critical thinking: why do we need it; how does it help us as students, citizens, and humans; and how is it being taught in classrooms today, if at all. 

While you can watch a video of Jonathan’s interview, we wanted to cover some of our favorite points from his interview here. Check out our 5 biggest takeaways from the interview below.

1. Critical Thinking is Crucial When Engaging with News

As we have seen in the past few years, sources of media and news are appearing more and more polarized, leading consumers, or viewers, to distrust certain news sources, especially when they don’t agree with them. In his interview, Haber discussed this growing problem and explained how news consumers have a responsibility to fact check and analyze their news, in other words, to engage with news using critical thinking skills. He explains, “there are many times when true facts are marshaled to deceive, or true facts are given in support of an incorrect or even a false conclusion. That’s where critical thinking skills come in.” If we want to be good consumers of news, we must have critical thinking skills to help us find out where we want to get our news from and how to detect when we are trying to be persuaded to assume a conclusion.

Because information is often presented with a slant or bias, and we often lean towards information that we inherently agree with, we need to be able to test when facts are organized or slanted in a way with the goal of deceiving viewers:

“You need critical thinking skills to evaluate information. Those are vital skills in the modern media literacy toolkit. You also need to be able to perform research and determine when information you’re getting, particularly from online sources, is relevant or accurate, or timely. Those are information literacy skills that are also key critical thinking skills . . . if you want to be a consumer of the news, you need to be a critical thinker.”

Critical thinking skills can help viewers or readers of the news determine when there is a goal to persuade at hand, and how that goal shapes the information given to us. When we can critically think, we have the ability to break down an argument or set of facts and analyze the information for what it is, without the biased language surrounding it.

2. How Does Empathy Relate to Critical Thinking?

Haber explained how personal characteristics do help build and use critical thinking skills. There will be moments when we simply don’t agree with someone else. We all have biases based on our background and experiences, and there will be moments where someone else’s beliefs contradict ours. In these moments, we can fall back on empathy to help control our responses, and not immediately shut out those who disagree. Haber explains, “If you empathize with other people, you may be able to engage in dialogue with them, even over something where you have a fundamental disagreement . . empathy is vital to personally be a critical thinker, but it also is vital to engaging in civil dialogue, engaging in real argumentation.” 

Empathy allows us to be open-minded when others have different experiences than us, paving the way for open conversation, even when we disagree. No matter how knowledgeable we become, if we don’t know how to engage with people who think differently from us, then we can’t be critical thinkers.

3. Critical Thinking and Citizenship

Critical thinking skills can change how we engage with others and the world as citizens. Haber made a very interesting point: there has been an increase in recent years of Americans moving to communities where most people living there agree politically. Many of us live in areas “where one candidate beats the other, or one party beats the other by a landslide, which means we’re not exposed to ideas that differ from our beliefs.” In other words, we live in areas that are dominated by a majority way of thinking, decreasing our chance of being exposed to those who think differently from us or our families. Haber goes on to detect how people often “watch cable news shows that cater to our prejudices,” and “subscribe to online news services or newspapers that tell us what we want to hear and don’t really challenge us.”

Haber thinks that this is a serious problem because it leaves our communities “highly, highly polarized.” We aren’t exposed to those who think differently and are only surrounded by people who confirm what we already believe or think. As a result, when confronted with someone from an opposing party or system of beliefs, we may be tempted to just not listen to them or assume they are wrong. We might not even attempt to discuss the issue, because we don’t know how to respectfully engage with people we disagree with, or maybe we heard a little and made assumptions that we understood that person and their experiences, with no need to talk about the actual details. 

Haber argues that if we want to be good citizens, we must have critical thinking skills and know how to engage in these conversations. We have to remain open-minded to the idea that if someone disagrees with us, they probably have important reasons why. If we don’t see it worthwhile to learn people’s stories behind their approach to important, substantive issues, then our beliefs never get challenged, and we may never be prompted to really think about why we believe the things we do. Critical thinking skills are strengthened when we are exposed to different ways of seeing the world, and constantly evaluating our own beliefs.

Watch: Interview with Jonathan Haber

4. Critical Thinking as an Employee

Critical Thinking is a skill within the 4 C’s: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Haber explained that these skills are what employers now look for in employees. Many employers complain that their younger hires don’t have adequate problem solving and critical thinking skills, even though 99% of educators see critical thinking as a vital skill. 

As Artificial Intelligence becomes a more prominent component of companies and businesses, employees will have to prove their value. This can come with proven critical thinking skills: the ability to explore, question, think creatively about solutions, work with others, and collaborate. Haber claims that these will be the most vital skills for students as they enter a world with jobs that might not even exist now. As explained in our 21st Century Skills blog post, students will need to have skills that can transfer and adapt to a society that is only changing faster and faster each year. 

5. Critical Thinking Skills Build on Each Other

The final takeaway from our interview with Jonathan Haber is that critical thinking skills are “very similar to other subjects: they build on each other.” In elementary school, for example, students can be taught the basics of fact, opinion, arguments, and the concepts of true and false. As a student goes into middle school, they can build on that and learn what exactly makes a strong or weak argument, as well as what the connection between a premise and conclusion is, or what leads people to make conclusions from facts. In high school, we can start analyzing arguments, fallacies, evaluate why arguments don’t always support a certain conclusion, and learn how to create powerful arguments that are persuasive. Students can also start analyzing their own arguments for strengths and weaknesses. These will set students up for college, and help them get ready to apply critical thinking skills as they leave enter a new setting, and begin to prepare for their career.

Haber hopes to see schools continue to incorporate critical thinking into their curriculum, making plans for how students will build on their growing set of skills. 

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The Juice is built to develop critical thinking and the necessary prerequisites for critical thinking skills. Through our daily newsletter, students can begin to discuss different current events with classmates and understand how their peers and friends perceive the world differently from them.

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US Politics (Grades 11-12)

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President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign a flurry of executive orders soon after his inauguration tomorrow. He plans to address what he’s calling the four crises facing the country. They are COVID-19, the economic downturn, racial injustice, and climate change.

An executive order is a written directive from the president carrying powers similar to a federal law. Presidents have historically used these orders to push policies forward quickly because they do not require approval from Congress. The downside of executive orders is that they are easily overturned by any new president. That is not true for federal laws.

Among other moves overturning Trump administration policies, Biden’s orders will return the US to the Paris Climate Accord and to the Iran nuclear deal.

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