Critical thinking – changing how you look

Changing how you look at things changes how you see them!

Put another way it is crucial that we retain and facilitate the ability to think outside the box and the frame……we need to challenge the way we think about the way we frame questions and possibilities so that we avoid the risks of diminishing our ability to understand and be creative-two key attributes which distinguish people from robots. With the rise of fake news and the surge in populist politics, the framing of an issue becomes increasingly problematic to all of us and for education in particular. I was struck by two pieces in the Guardian newspaper on the 3 April which reflects this dilemma. The first was the editorial on education, entitled: It’s not what you know it’s how you know it. The article sketched out a theme which has been etched on the minds of those who promote competencies and key skills in education for sustainable development, notably the teaching of critical thinking. The author of a recent OECD report it claimed is advocating that all children should be taught to think critically about what they read on the internet, making the case that better evaluation of

“what they read on the internet might make fake news less persuasive?”

Nor, as the piece argues is

“critical thinking a solution to the closed worlds of social media”.

Indeed, it applies also to our values and belief systems about sustainability. And, I also agree with the author that simply raising awareness of different points of view is not necessarily the way to shift the deniers especially those climate change deniers. Which leads me to the other article, entitled: There’s another story about climate change. It starts with water.

This article  eloquently sets out the case that the issue of climate change cannot be framed as a single story to whit, that global warming is caused by too much CO2 in the atmosphere, due to the burning of fossil fuels. The author correctly asserts that climate change is not the function of a “sole metric” because the blanket of water vapour which envelops the planet acts as a thermal buffer and governs 95% of the earth’s heat dynamics. And, this is where my research background in plant physiology comes into play because it is plants that manage water, through a process called transpiration. So, if we want to bring the earth’s temperature back from the brink we need to bring its heat and water dynamics into balance. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that every square metre of the earth’s surface receives on average 342 Watts of energy from the sun each day. But, because of mans activities we radiate back 339 Watts, a difference of less than 1%. The remedy? Better management of our ecosystems with more plant cover. Music to my ears!

Perhaps understanding why issues are framed should be a key educational objective, in order to help our students enhance their critical thinking? And, like any good teacher, I recommend a readable and insightful book called FRAMESPOTTING by Laurence and Alison Mathews. It illuminates how frames influence your thinking.

Professor Stephen Martin Hon FSE;FRSB;FIEnvSci FIHort;FRSA
Honorary Professor, University of Worcester
Visiting Professor in Learning for Sustainability, University of the West of England.
President of the charity:Change Agents UK
WWF Fellow.
Policy Advisor to the UK National Commission for UNESCO.
Founder member of the English Learning for Sustainability Alliance (ELSA).


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