Critical Thinking Skills


Science teaches that first-hand observation is the only factual basis for conclusions. Why is this solid principle not true in the teaching of literature? If your children are to be astute readers, guide them now in the critical thinking skills of looking at the basis for any writing, especially literature that portrays true events. Is it written by an author who has first-hand knowledge of his subject? If the author is removed a generation or two, how much research and recall from first-hand observations does he use? Is there a clear balance of the subject, or does the author just have an axe to grind? Perhaps the author is just frustrated or angry with himself, as I suggested about F. Scott Fitzgerald in last month’s column. Carl Sandburg wrote one of the most extensive biographies of Abraham Lincoln ever written, but Sandburg was born 13 years after Lincoln’s death. Nonetheless, the work is considered highly accurate because Sandburg returned to the communities and people who had known Lincoln during his lifetime and delved into the many letters and journals written by Lincoln himself. The conclusions drawn by Sandburg about Lincoln’s character are so named as personal observations in Sandburg’s own words. Many modern authors make sweeping personal observations in their writing that are skewed by their own philosophies and never bother to point out which is fact and which is their personal opinion. The naïve young reader may never know the difference unless he is taught to look for these flaws. There are personal agendas hidden even in works of fiction. Judge the “rules” of the fiction by your absolute Biblical standards. Even Shakespeare creates punishment for wrong; good always triumphs over evil. While the Bard himself was apparently no model citizen, the primary ‘textbook’ of his day was the Bible. That’s why there is so much reference to it in his work and the majority of his themes are taken from Scripture. In the next several Catbird Seat columns, I’ll review famous authors and their personal perspectives in relation to their subject.