One way to encourage critical thinking and to illustrate its importance is to give your students a simple (on the surface) task: Collect an editorial from a local media source, or a statement of opinion or preference from a writer. Many of the new “religious” writers are no more than personal opinion publishers. While opinions are supposed to be personal, they should have a basis in reality, sensibility, and thought. Facts are also nice. Opinions without reasonable basis are useless. Of course, this is what most news editorials have become, simply a place to demand “This is what I want!” or “This is what I think.” I fear many Christians swallow this kind of opinion as life principle without delving into its basis. Let’s work to put opinion on a more philosophical plane as well as to evaluate its worth.
Start with the basics. What opinion is the writer expressing? Unfortunately, this is where most teaching of thinking ends. Some teachers will ask students if they agree or disagree, but that is not the first part of the skill set to approach.
Proceed with a further analysis. Who is the writer? What experience with this subject (of the article) does she have? Can you see a relationship between her experience (or lack of) and the opinion she expresses? What social, economic, educational, and professional experiences and associations of the writer might also come through in her opinion? Which one of these background influences appears strongest in her statements? Choose the statements you think express more than just a momentary opinion; that is, statements that reflect a cultural, economic, or educational preference. Is there a particular point in the writer’s life that a statement can be connected to?
Next discuss the position of the opinion as an objective statement. Is the statement valid? Does it have loopholes? Is there fallacious (unfounded basis) reasoning in the opinion? Could the opinion be true under some circumstances, or is it a statement that can be proven to be true? How can it be proven? By examples, experiences (related stories), or by facts? Is the opinion expressed as conjecture? This means that the writer is proposing a future possibility, probably one she has thinks will work or should happen. If certain events occur in the future, would that make this possibility more likely? List the changes the future will have to have for this event to occur. Does the writer seem to grasp this? Or does she just throw out an idea without providing a framework for its completion? What additional resources can you uncover that will either cement this opinion as good argument or that will show this opinion to be without merit?
Look to see if the writer offers solutions to these questions by giving that background information or structure, thus giving you, the reader, something to think about and to evaluate her expressed opinion as valid or not.