A couple of readers have thoughtfully pointed out a connection between critical thinking and liberty (see our exchange in the comments linked to “Executive Functions and Independence”). I would define “critical thinking” as our capacity, from logic and conscience, to judge what is actually true, beautiful, and right. In I Peter 2:13, the Lord calls us to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.” Yet this is not an ignorant, slavish obedience whereby we regard the state as supreme and infallible. Paradoxically, this command is coupled with “Live as free men” (v. 16). This paradox is resolved, I believe, in the motivation given for submission to authority, found in the phrase “for the Lord’s sake.” When we act for the Lord’s sake, we honor the true, everlasting King. Usually submitting to human authorities honors God, but there are instances when doing so would not and therefore our submission would not be “for the Lord’s sake.” This is the higher principle, and the higher principle should be followed when principles are in conflict.
To live for the Lord’s sake requires evaluating one’s decisions, and the decisions of those in authority, by some transcendent norms, i.e. standards that are above the state (or anyone in authority) because they are above space and time, coming from the Lord. When our beliefs in what is true and right come from logical reasoning in our minds and moral guidance in our conscience, using what God has revealed as our starting point, we can live freely even as we submit to authority because we do not need authorities, in the form of the state or the wider culture (governed now by what Pope Benedict cleverly calls the “dictatorship of relativism”) to tell us how to live virtuous lives. Rather we can rise above those powerful forces, making critical judgments about them from God’s truth, and choosing to live contrary to cultural norms (and the dictates of the state when they contradict God’s word).
So, yes, I believe the ability to think critically is indispensible to liberty (and faithful Christian discipleship), both on the individual level and societal level. Therefore, we should be educating our children to think critically, and be concerned that many children are not.
If you have children, or are in education, what have you found to be effective for teaching critical thinking?