I am on a quest to understand more about critical thinking. I do research on how teaching with documentaries can help enhance this supposedly 21st century skill, and how it can be taught throughout the curriculum. And as a good quest entails, it is not easy to arrive at the destination.

Checking students’ argumentative essays my colleagues and I are sometimes wondering where they have left their brain. We teach examples on how to structure arguments: the warrant, the claim and the impact. But the first-year-student who can do it well is the exception to the rule.

Researchers state that you need knowledge to think critically. Some even claim it cannot be taught.

A few weeks ago a colleague passed me a chapter from bell hooks book – Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. According to bell, thinking is an action. Children are good at it because they are ‘organically predisposed to be critical thinkers.’ Children are so curious and eager for knowledge that they become relentless interrogators. Instinctively they learn how to think by asking the Wh-questions about almost everything.

But what happens when they reach college? Hooks claims that the world seeks to educate students for conformity and obedience – thinking is not necessary anymore, just consuming information and regurgitating. Students are passive because it is more comfortable. Recognizable.

So I thought, let’s go back to the child and observe my own 5-year-old daughter, also a relentless interrogator. As we were walking through the woods she asked me many questions about Revolting Rhymes – a BBC adaptation of Roald Dahl’s rhyming version of the famous fairy tales she has watched many times.

Daughter: ‘Why does the wolf return to the forest?’
Me: ‘Because he wants to be a normal wolf again in his own living space, the forest. He takes of his clothes and walks on 4 feet again.’
Daughter: ‘Why does little red riding hood kill the wolf?’
Me: ‘Because he wants to kill her friend Cinderella.’

…. Many more questions from daughter, me getting kind of fed up…
Daughter: ‘Why do the wolf’s nephews leave the forest?’
Me: ‘Why do you think they leave the forest?”
Daughter: “Because they want to eat the piglets.”

And it continues with me asking more questions in return which she can perfectly answer. She happy, I happy.

How do we find the little relentless interrogator in our students again, all 30 of them? Documentaries seem to help a bit but more is needed. Let’s face the wolf in this quest.