When the lawyers finally got to me, they asked me if I watched television shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order." When I said "yes," they asked me if I thought all evidence could be collected, analyzed, and conclusions drawn in a one hour show. If I remember correctly, I said that I knew television shows had to condense story lines for their viewers and that the actual processes took weeks or maybe even months. The interviewing lawyers called it the "CSI Effect" and said that many people think that all evidence, investigations, arrests, and trials should only take short amounts of time. They also made clear that the science and technologies on television dramas, while possible, were usually far more advanced than what anyone would find in real life.
At the time I thought how sad it was that the lawyers had to take time to tell prospective jurors that television shows are not real; they are television shows; they are stories. Obviously, the lawyers had learned that many people called to jury duty do not have the critical thinking skills to realize that television, while based on real-life stories, is not real life. That's kind of sad.
This is one reason why critical thinking skills are so stressed in schools. It also happens to be one of the areas in which students have trouble. The skills include observing, interpreting data, analyzing, making inferences, evaluating, explaining, and coming to accurate judgments. It involves open-minded thinking processes that lead to intelligent conclusions.
It's understandable that students will have some trouble with this kind of thinking because they are still learning to think critically. It is hoped that by the time students leave high school, they will be proficient in these skills. Unfortunately, that is not happening as evidenced by the number of adults who lack these skills. When lawyers have to interview prospective jurors about their critical thinking skills, it's obvious that many adults still need help in this area.
Schools definitely need to do a better job. My first day of high school chemistry, my teacher lit a candle and told us to watch it. We watched it and watched it until it was gone. At the time I thought it was just about the most stupid thing I had ever had to do in school. But then he asked us about our observations. As he wrote them on the chalkboard, we started interpreting what we had seen, we started analyzing and evaluating, we started to explain why the candle burned. This led to a discussion of the chemical processes involved in burning, a discussion of plasma, and how important it is to just observe.
As it turned out, this one activity of watching a candle, led the class into the world of science and critical thinking. Teaching these skills can really be just this simple, but must be done over and over in all subjects. Give students a math problem and let them come up with different ways of solving it. Let them write a story in Language Arts class about an observation they've made, perhaps something they saw on the way to school that morning. Analyze a current event for a Social Studies class and have students come to intelligent judgments of that event. With just a little imagination, the opportunities for teaching critical thinking skills are limitless.