As kids, that’s what we used to say at school recess when tossing the ball around. Is “Think fast!” what we’re now saying when we read?
Historically, thinking and reading have gone hand-in-hand. Eric Havelock argued years back that development of alphabetic writing in Greece enabled a level of analysis not earlier possible. Havelock may have gilded the alpha, beta, gamma, delta lily, but no one who reads Aristotle or Aristophanes doubts these writers gave us a lot to mentally chew on.
Today there’s much talk about what goes by the lofty name “critical thinking.” The phrase generally means something like “examine other people’s arguments” or “evaluate data.” InBeyond the University, Michael Roth suggests the notion of critical thinking is our attempt “to describe the benefits of inquiry that doesn’t aim at specialization.” Pursuit of critical thinking skills permeates education at all levels. Among the eight million or so Google hits for “critical thinking lower school” are Glenelg Country School’s focus on “sharpening critical thinking skills in grades 2 through 5” and Fairfax Country Schools’ K through 6 curriculum incorporating “critical and creative thinking lessons.”
However you dice it, we want young people to delve into materials with a mindset prepared to take a reasoned, objective stand rather than memorizing or shooting opinions from the hip. What kind of materials? Largely written, and these days, there’s the rub. We teach the next generation to decipher words on a page, but as the form of what constitutes a page shifts, so does the nature of reading.