11/23/2015 04:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Teaching Our Kids Critical Thinking


Parents should equip their children to develop and practice intellectual virtue, because this is necessary for true human flourishing. But what is intellectual virtue? An intellectual virtue is an excellence of the mind. It is an intellectual character trait that enables one to reason well for the purpose of living well. Some examples of intellectual virtues include attentiveness, prudence, teachability, intellectual tenacity, intellectual humility, love of truth, and wisdom. It does not matter whether one becomes a college professor, computer technician, artist, or a welder. Simply by virtue of being human, we live more fulfilled lives and can perform our jobs better if we possess the intellectual virtues and apply their fruit to our lives.

Seeking to develop intellectual virtue in our children is important for many reasons. One is that being a good critical thinker safeguards them from some cultural influences that can undermine their flourishing.

Several years ago, a PBS program detailed an advertising strategy called emotional branding. The strategy is "to fill the empty places where noncommercial institutions, like schools and churches, might once have done the job. Brands become more than just a mark of quality, they become an invitation to a longed-for lifestyle, a ready-made identity." The program points out that those who are brand managers talk as if they truly are fulfilling the needs people have for meaning, community, and even transcendence. Of course, in the end, it's only an iPhone, a car, or a pair of shoes. But this works out for the companies, because people have to go shopping again in the attempt to get these needs met.

This is related to intellectual virtue, because in emotional branding the advertiser tries to bypass the rational mind and tap into these longings we possess. They want us to associate these longings with their products or services, and they seek to accomplish this by their marketing and advertising. The intellectually virtuous person will recognize that the kind of car one drives is unrelated to finding meaningful relationships with other people.

We need to teach our children to be careful, critical thinkers, for not only advertisers but also politicians (Trump, anyone?), pastors, and others may use the same methods of persuasion. One of the best safe-guards in these contexts is a sound mind. For some practical tips on how to do this, see the award-winning book by Philip Dow, Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development.

Photo by Y. Nishikawa, CCL