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Critical Thinking

April 20, 2007

I’ve been pondering the meaning of critical thinking with great regularity lately. I remember having many conversations with my folks as a youngster about the importance of critical thinking. I remember hearing that going through college really teaches one the art of critical thinking. I remember having multiple discussions about people who did not have the critical thinking skillset. I don’t think I ever really understood the definition, though. I don’t think I got down to the nuts and bolts or thought about it on a deeper level. I just assumed I knew what it was and did it.

Now, I have kids. Suddenly, it’s a very concrete concept. I get it. Entirely. No question.

The youngest daughter is a wonderfully talented, funny, amazing person. She is also extremely intelligent, so I don’t want you to misconstrue what comes next. I’m not questioning her ability, AT ALL. Rather, I’m wondering at what point in her young life (she’s 9 now) she will learn the skill of critical thinking.

When we first assigned the chore of dishwasher emptying to her, she began the task with gusto. She knew where the silverware belonged, so she started with that. She put each piece away meticulously. She then moved on to the pots and pans. She asked, for each piece, where it should go. Although I reminded her several times that all of the pots and pans go in the same cupboard, each time she pulled another out of the dishwasher she asked where it should go. Same deal with the lids. All lids go in the drawer under the oven, but with each piece she asked again.

Funniest was when she got to putting away the plates, bowls and glasses. Plates, bowls and glasses both go in upper cupboards, so her initial solution was to place them all on the counter. When I asked her why she had not put them away, she replied that she was unable to reach the cupboards. They were just too high for her. She demonstrated by grabbing a glass off of the counter and reaching her arm up toward the cupboard, up on one toe, eyes wide, knowing look on her face.


“What would you do if that was the candy cupboard?” I asked. “Do you think you would find a way to be able to reach the cupboard?”

She smiled a tiny smile. The smile quickly went away, replaced by a questioning, innocent look. No words.

“How about if you get a chair?” I suggested. “Maybe then you would be able to reach.”

She nodded, shoulders slumped, and wandered to the table. She got the chair and put away the glasses, returned the chair to its place at the table, and announced that she was finished.

“Hmmm, good job on the glasses. How about the plates and bowls?” I asked.

Big sigh. Chair legs scraped across the floor as she dragged it from the table again. Plates and bowls somehow found their rightful place in the cupboard and she put the chair away again.

“Am I done now?”

“Is the job done?” I asked.

“I think so.” she said.

“Then I think you’re done.”…

Last week, she was ill. She stayed home from school with the “in the chair, cold washcloth on the head, sprint for the bathroom, bucket by your side” funk. Early in the morning the poor kiddo had thrown up all over the carpet in her room (no bucket, bad Stepmommy). That meant that I was the Steamcleaning Queen of the Universe. (Side note: if you have children and you have not purchased a steamcleaner, you MUST go directly to Wal-Mart, do not pass to, do not collect $200, and buy one!) I steamcleaned. I dumped the yuckiness in the toilet. I rinsed the tank thoroughly with soap and hot water. I set it in the tub to dry.

She decided mid-morning that a bath would be nice. I concurred. I love to take baths when I’m sick. They’re soothing, relaxing, calming. If they can’t cure the bug, they sure seem to put it on pause for awhile. Into the bathroom she went to run a tub. I heard silence for several seconds and then out of the bathroom she came, finger pointing back towards the bathroom.

“The steamcleaner thingy is in the tub,” she said.

“It is?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“And…” I prompted.

“And I can’t run a tub because it’s in there.”

“Really?” I wondered. “What if you took it out of the tub?”

“Oh…” she said, and headed back into the bathroom. A clang, thump and a bump later, the water was running…

Last night we went to Sears to look for a video camera. They were on sale. Hubby had seen it earlier in the day, drooled over it for awhile, put together his argument for purchasing one, called me with the argument, and there we were. I’m a sucker, what can I say? On the way out, we passed through the first set of automatic doors, only to find a big sign taped across the second set that read, “OUT OF ORDER. Please use other door.”

We were walking slowly, hubby and I, chit-chatting about the next event for which we might use this camera, so we weren’t really paying attention. We were so focused on this discussion that when the youngest daughter stopped in her tracks in front of the “other door”, we kind of stood for a half a second, waiting for something to happen. It finally dawned on me that we were just standing there, in front of the door, not moving. I looked up and saw her there, looking up, then down, confounded. She was waiting for the door to open and it was not cooperating, because it was not automatic. I leaned forward, just a tad, and whispered in her ear…


She did. The door opened. The clouds parted. The angels sang. It was an incredible moment. She looked back over her shoulder at me, the barest hint of a smile on her lips.

Children have such a way of clarifying things, of reducing things down to simplest form for us, don’t they? I hope we can teach her to think critically before she has to brave the world on her own. Right now it seems like it might be a daunting task!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynda permalink
    April 20, 2007 11:09 am

    I miss your kids so much!! Please give them hugs and kisses for their Aunt Lynda and tell them I love them very much!

  2. Christine permalink
    April 20, 2007 9:40 pm

    That was ha-stinkin’-larious! I just can’t wait to see you all again… too funny. I have a GREAT one to share along those same lines. Eric’s at the SF Giants game tonight, so I take the kids out to Rubio’s for dinner and Cold Stone for dessert. I get the kids their ice cream and say 5million times, “yes, that looks so good, GO SIT AT THE TABLE.” The entire establishment can hear me by like #3. Finally, I get mine, and I open my purse to pay. The guy who’s ringing me up says (same guy who gave the ice cream, mind you) says, “Is this for here or to go” as I was taking a bite of ice cream. I burst out laughing, and said, “Are you kidding me!?! Did you not just hear me tell my kids like 500 times GO TO TABLE?” Ahhh, youth. They truly don’t have one functioning synapse left.

  3. Grand-gran permalink
    April 30, 2007 9:05 am

    Save this story for her when she has daughters.

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