A little learning

I’m with those who see the future successful countries as those that embrace ‘knowledge’ well. For that reason alone, I fear for Jamaica in the near term. We have a society that applauds a certain form of knowledge, often learned by rote, that is largely driven by success in exams, but it has not yet seen the need to push past that particular display of learning towards another phase.

I spoke with another parent today about the school where our children go. He’d moved his son from one of Kingston’s traditional schools several years ago. His view was that other schools could help his sons get As in subjects, but struggled to show his son how to think critically. ‘Critical thinking’ is a buzz phrase, but it has lots of real meaning.

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as ‘the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.’ Put simpler, it’s reasoned and well-thought out judgement. Alternatively, it’s about finding sound solutions to problems.

A friend shared recently a story of how he and his family were ambushed by would-be burglars. What came from the tale was that the villains hadn’t really thought through their crime. No weapons were used or needed to confront them and their firearms. They were defeated by uncertainty and lack of focus. Uncertainty was created by a fast-thinking old lady outside the house, who created an annoying disturbance. The lack of focus came because one of the culprits could not find a prized possession–a cell phone–which could have linked him to the crime.

Perhaps, criminals are not the best role models for critical thinking. But, if you are putting your life at risk to deprive people by confronting them with the threat of violence, you should think of the many possible consequences. Well, that’s a rational view.

However, we often see examples of how people don’t reason at all or well.

On the roads, we often see people prepared to rush to cross an oncoming vehicle when the road behind that vehicle is clear. By just waiting, the risk of collision is removed. That touches on a topic that spurred me today: road safety.

A series of Don Anderson/RJR Group opinion polls was released yesterday. One of them covered public experiences with the current wave of Chikungunya virus. The pollsters found that nearly 9 out of 10 Jamaicans had been affected by the virus. However, despite clear information from the health ministry, and also available elsewhere, most people did not believe the apparently valid scientific evidence that the virus came solely from the bite of infected mosquitoes. Forty nine percent of Jamaicans believe Chik-v has nothing to do with mosquitos; 23 percent said it is caused by mosquitos and other things, while 16 percent believe it is caused entirely by mosquitos. Twelve percent of Jamaicans are not sure what is the cause.

Clearly, scientific evidence does not sway firmly held opinions.

This is worrying at every level, if people have to absorb lessons to make progress. Again, put simply, we have a strong tendency to believe whatever we want in the face of contrary information. At its least, it’s pure stubbornness. It’s also foolishness at work.

You can choose which concerns you most. I was thinking about recent pleas for more care on the roads. Deaths so far in 2014 were 303, against 307 for all of 2013. It’s clear that education isn’t working. I see proof of that every day.

Today, I rode behind a motorcyclist who had a cloth cap on his head while carrying a helmet on the back of his bike.

Hard headed

He obviously thought he had enough protection. What was the helmet for? Whatever we’ve done to try to inform about risks has fallen on deaf ears. Motorcyclists are amongst the group most killed in traffic accidents. But, they are disconnected from their own safety.

IMG_0578.JPGWhat reasoning did do to decide on his actions?

As I said before, if we think so poorly when our life is on the line, is it reasonable to believe we can think well at other times?