In December of last year, we offered a quick post on egocentrism and critical thinking, which reminded me of some important shifts we need to make as educators. As many of us embark on discussions of sensitive, complex, and important issues — from Ferguson to ISIS to ebola — with the young people in our care, we become dismayed. They often respond with thinking that shows insensitivity, over-simplification, and a tendency to make light of serious matter. We become dismayed and daunted by the task of bringing students to a moment of enlightenment:
No, you are not the center of the universe.
No, your point of view is not the only point of view. Your experiences and beliefs and assumptions are not the experiences, beliefs, and assumptions of all people on this planet.
This is what I was thinking about as I combed through our old posts on critical thinking, and found this little gem that reminded me that egocentric thinking and sociocentric thinking are natural — we all think this way until we take control over our thinking and actively challenge our own thought processes.
Here’s the original post:
We all want our students to be better thinkers, right? But do we practice what we hope to see in them?
We agree with the Foundation for Critical Thinking‘s assertion that:
“Humans typically create thought that is vague, fragmented, contradictory, egocentric, sociocentric and lacking in foundational insights. This is so because the natural state of the human mind is one of egocentrism.”
“To think well, we must routinely critique our egocentric tendencies and transform irrational thinking to rational thinking.”
Can we take a moment to critique our own thoughts, identify areas of egocentrism and come to more rational conclusions? Even better, could we model this thinking aloud for our students?
Project Look Sharp, a program out of Ithaca College, provides some great examples and resources to help us achieve this. For instance, a unit on the Middle East might start with an activity where students preview a series of images (such as those below) and indicate whether they think the image is from the Middle East,or not from the Middle East. Try it yourself:
Immediately, students are forced to think about their own stereotypes, biases, and preconceived notions. The first image above shows a group of women in Saudi Arabia, the middle image shows a mosque in Michigan, USA, and the final image shows a shopping mall in Dubai. Will students guess incorrectly? Most likely, yes. But the point is that they will start to question why their instincts led them where they did.
As a follow up activity, Project Look Sharp suggests analyzing the opening scene of the Disney movie Aladdin. What images of the Arab world do we receive as Americans? How does this shape our perceptions of Muslim people and events in the Middle East?
Asking students to consider the social and cultural norms that influence how they think is an important first step toward self-doubt and self-questioning — both huge factors in loosening the grip of egocentrism and sociocentrism on our minds.
Check out more Project Look Sharp resources here. It’s all free once you register!