There were a couple things that I learned in High School that really stuck with me. Actually, there were surprisingly few things. One of the things that has made a big difference was learning the ability to think critically.
There were two teachers that played a large role in learning critical thinking.
One was a really hard core English teacher that pushed us hard. And when I say hard, I mean she was prepping us for college by teaching us like we were already there. She expected college level work from us and didn’t cut any slack, ever. That might sound kind of harsh, but if the bar is set low you don’t have to push yourself to match expectations. When the expectations are really, really high than you have to really work to meet them. And she was vicious when we were editing, vicious. She really made us break down the piece, figure out what was working, what needed to be improved, and what should be cut. I learned more from her than any other English teacher (including my actual college-level instructors).
The second teacher taught Economics, which doesn’t seem like a particularly interesting or critical subject, but she taught well. A few of the things that we went over were popular commercials, learning how our emotions and thoughts are influenced by marketing techniques. She also introduced politics and we analyzed political speeches for accuracy and the techniques they used to avoid, mislead, and side step questions. We also learned some economics too. She taught us to take everything with a grain of salt, then break it down.
Now, what exactly is critical thinking?
According to Google, critical thinking is: the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.
My definition is slightly different. To me, critical thinking is being able to break something down into it’s elements, see how they affect the whole, and being able to form educated opinions about them.
Ok, so what’s the purpose of critical thinking?
Critical thinking plays a role in absolutely everything I do, see, read, write, etc. Everything.
When I read a poem for a review, I break it down into as many elements as possible. I see how each of these elements affects the whole, see if any of them can be approved. I look at the poem like a puzzle, I need to see everything from every angle to find out how it fits together.
When I write a post I basically do the process backwards. I think about what I want to say, figure out what would support the idea in the ways that I want, and build it up piece by piece. Then I edit it the same way I do the poem reviews. (Some posts are basically stream of thought, so this doesn’t really apply to them, but this is the process I use when I have a specific point I’m trying to make)
Critical thinking affects everything. When I see a painting I look at all the elements, the colors, the shapes, the balance and how they affect the whole. When I hear music, I’m breaking it down to the tones, the rhythms, the changes, the lyrics, and see how they affect the whole. When I see a commercial, I’m breaking it down critically. When I get a new job, what are all the employees roles, how does the system work together? When I hear a speech, I break it down. When I hear an argument, I break it down. Everything gets broken down.
I ended up with a very technical job. I work on complex electrical systems. Critical thinking all day. I figure out how each of the parts of the system contribute to the overall function. When there is a problem, which parts are working, which parts might be malfunctioning. If I do this, or change this, how does that affect the system?
So, as you can see, learning how to think critically has positively affected every aspect of my life. And I owe it all to those two teachers. There might not have been much else about high school that became valuable later on, but what I did learn has proven to be invaluable.