Can a TV Show Promote Critical Thinking?

Confession:  I’m a TV junkie.  I’m not sure how I managed life before the invention of the DVR, but I’m sure I missed a lot of fantastic shows.  I watch a little bit of everything: comedy, reality shows, movies, drama, and even a little C-SPAN (yes, I’m a nerd).

I’m sure there are plenty of people who believe TV does nothing but rot your brain.  However, I believe that if you watch the right shows, you can see wonderful examples of Critical Thinking in Action.  For instance, the show Myth Busters on Discovery Channel breaks down myths (based on assumptions) and evaluates the scientific arguments that support the myth to draw a conclusion about it’s accuracy.  Ta-da!  Scientific Critical Thinking in the form of a TV show!

I believe the same is true of many dramas on TV right now.  House, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Bones, Fringe, 24, Flash Forward, The Mentalist, and Criminal Minds all engage the viewer to play along with Critical Thinking activities.

My favorite show on TV is LOST, and I believe this show has taken viewers on a 6 year journey of Pearson’s RED model of Critical Thinking.  From the very first episode, viewers were forced to Recognize their Assumptions (i.e. there can’t be a polar bear on an island).  I’ve learned to assume that everyone is capable of being the “bad guy” given certain circumstances.  I’ve also learned to never assume any event is trivial- not even a traffic stop or brand of candy bar.

If you’ve ever heard two LOST fans discuss an episode, you’ve probably heard some wonderful examples of Evaluating Arguments.  A strong critical thinker can separate the emotion of the story line and affinity with certain characters, in order to be open to alternative theories.  In terms of Evaluating Arguments, not only will the fans draw from what has been seen on the show, but what the writers and actors themselves have divulged through interviews.  For example, in the first few seasons, viewers began thinking that the island was a form of purgatory.  And while there are plenty of arguments that could be made in support of that theory, the producers have now clarified that the island is NOT any form of hell or purgatory.

Personally, even though there are only 4 episodes of LOST left, I am still stuck at the Evaluating Arguments step in the RED Model.  I am not ready to Draw a Conclusion about the island’s purpose or how the story will end (though a quick search for “LOST theories” will show you many possibilities).  I’m satisfied just riding along on this 6 year Critical Thinking journey with the creators of LOST.  I will both celebrate and mourn the final chapter of the show.

LOST fans- what Critical Thinking lessons have you learned from the show?

Non-LOST fans- can you think of any other shows that stimulate/promote Critical Thinking?

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts. 

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