Critical Thinking

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."


~Thomas Jefferson
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

John Adams

John Adams

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”

Free citizens in a democratic society need to do some critical thinking about the candidates and the issues. Social Studies educators have a special charge to help the students make informed decisions on their own. It is of the utmost importance that this instruction is impartial and encourages informed and independent thinking by the students. The following activities are not formal lesson plans, but rather simple suggestions that each teacher can adapt to the appropriate level of difficulty. Each can be developed into lessons addressing the New Jersey Learning Standards for Language Arts.

One activity that can be used as part of a Language Arts lesson is to have students write essays evaluating the validity of the above quotes, and how each might apply to the current campaign and political climate.

Modern campaigns often employ fact-checkers to track the statements of the opposition. Students should be encouraged to check the facts, and sources cited, of all of the candidates, not for partisan advantage, but to establish what positions are grounded in evidence. This activity can be integrated into social studies lessons, as well as library skills research strategies.

It is important to understand not just the facts themselves, but also how they are used. Students should be aware of possible logical fallacies,and recognize them when they occur. Encourage students to examine the claims of candidates they favor, as well as candidates they oppose, to determine if any logical fallacies were committed. The campaign advertisements funded by the campaigns can also be examined. A guide for student writing assignments regarding logical fallacies can be found at Purdue OWL: Logic in Argumentative Writing. Notes from the Teaching the Election in a Partisan Era workshop on using logic to assess classroom and candidate statements can be found here.

Finally, for a lesson on the role of social media in shaping perceptions of the election, PBS offers the following resource.