One of the most important roles of education is to help students develop critical thinking skills, which involve understanding, not just what is said, but how it is said. This presentation will explore the ways in which enjoying poetry, literary fiction, visual imagery and other art forms can help people develop critical thinking skills. We will examine the differences between propaganda and art, and identify the devices they have in common. We will do “close readings” of WWI propaganda and 21st century British political rhetoric as well as look at brief excerpts from political satirists, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, who show how the use of rhetoric can undo emotional bias rather than reinforce it. The presentation will also include clips from the seminal documentary on the subject, The Century of the Self..
While typical approaches to teaching critical thinking skills may focus on achieving clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, depth, and breadth–the products of critical thought–they may not address how critical thought may be subverted or explore why reporting facts in a logical manner can fail to be persuasive. We will also briefly look at new research in biosemiotics (the study of sign use in biological systems) that helps us understand how meanings are created and reinforced, so that we can better understand how the same mechanisms, which help us think, can also allow us to not think.