Critical Thinking: How and Why

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Learning isn’t what it used to be. Jobs aren’t either. With the ubiquity of our cell phones, which often masquerade as an added appendage, up-to-date knowledge is no longer something that can be memorized. Subjects that at one point were thought to be settled, like history, today are updated at an unprecedented rate. Now, the ability to separate the more accurate information from the falsehoods, and the humility to allow our thinking to be changed in light of new information is far more necessary. What employers are looking for, and often not finding are skills like critical thinking. [1] College students, who are supposedly being prepared for the job market, are proving to be seriously lacking in the ability to think critically about subjects. [2]

A lack of critical thinking skills can not only affect a persons desirability in the job market, but can lead them to make ill-informed decisions about things as intimate as relationships, and to be less than true to their own inner desires.[3]

Amanda Lang’s The Power of Why. In it she states:

“Curious kids learn how to learn, and how to enjoy it – and that, more than any specific body of knowledge, is what they will need to have in the future. The world is changing so rapidly that by the time a student graduates from university, everything he or she learned may already be headed toward obsolescence. The main thing that students need to know is not what to think but how to think in order to face new challenges and solve new problems.” (p.14) [4]

Critical thinking has many definitions depending on who you ask. The dictionary defines it as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement” Interestingly the sentence that accompanies this concise definition outlines one of the problems society currently faces with regard to critical thinking “Professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking amongst their students.” [5] 

While I am not trying specifically to promote ProCon.org, their video does a good job of telling what critical thinking is and why it is important for creating involved citizens.

[6]

Richard Paul in his Fall 2004 article “The State of Critical Thinking Today” gave a great practical example of critical thinking in a history classroom.

“In the typical history class, for example, students are often asked to remember facts about the past. They therefore come to think of history class as a place where you hear names and dates and places; where you try to memorize and state them on tests. They think that when they can successfully do this, they then ‘know history.’

Alternatively, consider history taught as a mode of thought. Viewed from the paradigm of a critical education, blindly memorized content ceases to be the focal point. Learning to think historically becomes the order of the day. Students learn historical content by thinking historically about historical questions and problems. They learn through their own thinking and classroom discussion that history is not a simple recounting of past events, but also an interpretation of events selected by and written from someone’s point of view. In recognizing that each historian writes from a point of view, students begin to identify and assess points of view leading to various historical interpretations. They recognize, for example, what it is to interpret the American Revolution from a British as well as a colonial perspective. They role-play different historical perspectives and master content through in-depth historical thought. They relate the present to the past. They discuss how their own stored-up interpretations of their own lives’ events shaped their responses to the present and their plans for the future. They come to understand the daily news as a form of historical thought shaped by the profit-making motivations of news collecting agencies. They learn that historical accounts may be distorted, biased, narrow, misleading.”[7]

Critical thinking focuses hard on questions, and especially questions of how and why. [8] You can see how students asking questions would complicate a classroom setting bound by specific testing goals.

No problem, why don’t we just throw a critical thinking course into the high school curriculum. That might be a simple solution, and there have been many curricula developed intending to do just that, but the results of the straight on pedagogical approach to critical thinking have been underwhelming. [9] Some in the debate about critical thinking argue that it cannot be taught properly on its own. [10] Critical thinking, they say, is a way of looking at knowledge you have already gained. Critical thinking is not something you just do. It is something you do about English, or about Math, or about Current Events. It is a way of looking at every subject you are faced with. [11]

If that is the case, how exactly should we treat the things we are learning to think about critically? Again, many approaches are available. This Youtube video by Ben Powers gives a simple breakdown of where to start with actively using critical thinking. [12]

One of the keys to critical thinking is asking “How?” and “Why?” of just about everything we can. For some reason we have this down pat at about two years old, and our knack for asking seems to diminishes with age. Some people break critical thinking into more steps. They may suggest you start by understanding how you learn and think best, then try to express the information you are learning to others.   [13]

Part of understanding new information clearly is understanding your own biases, whether good or bad, before you try to interpret the information you are receiving. [14]

Critical thinking involves interacting with knowledge rather than memorizing or taking it for granted. This leaves you with a depth of knowledge that provides a more multi-dimensional understanding of a topic that can then be better applied to situations in real life. [15] One of the difficulties with trying to make critical thinking coincide with teaching regular subjects is that learning critical thinking doesn’t end the way Algebra does. It is something that should grow with us. [16] As we learn more about who we are and how we learn critical thinking changes and becomes more a part of us.

For young people to be allowed to incorporate critical thinking into their everyday way of being they need to be allowed flexibility that is not currently built into the educational system. For adults to exhibit critical thinking they need the strength of character to sometimes change their long held positions. They need to choose to support their beliefs with accurate facts and admit their biases. Impassioned stances are often the rule of the day. Bipolar views of issues: Good or Bad, All or nothing, can be destructive to the complex truth and to those who are trying to seek it. What do we do within our current system, or what system do we create that will allow everyone the room to root out truth and create effective solutions to issues based as best as we can, on science we can support? What educational system can we encourage that will allow students to make their learning a part of their real lives?

 

  1. White, Martha C. “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired.” Time.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 10 July 2016. <http://business.time.com/2013/11/10/the-real-reason-new-college-grads-cant-get-hired/>.
  2. Rimer, Sara. “Study: Many college students not learning to think critically.” Mcclatchydc.com. N.p., Jan. 2011. Web. 10 July 2016. <http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article24608056.html>.
  3. Kasten, G. Randy. “Critical Thinking: A Necessary Skill in the Age of Spin.” edutopia.org. N.p., 2 2012. Web. 10 July 2016. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/critical-thinking-necessary-skill-g-randy-kasten>.
  4. Lang, Amanda. The Power Of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success. N.p.: Collins, 2012. N. pag. Print.
  5. “Critical Thinking.” Oxford Dictionary. 2016. N. pag. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/critical-thinking?q=critical+thinking>.
  6. Critical Thinking Explained. Procon.org, 2013. Web. 21 July 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzV1pNQUX5s>.
  7. Paul, Richard. “The State of Critical Thinking Today.” Criticalthinking.org. N.p., 2004. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-state-of-critical-thinking-today/523>.
  8. Lau, Joe, and Jonathan Chan. “What is Critical Thinking?.” philosophy.hku.hk. N.p., 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/critical/ct.php>.
  9. Willingham, Daniel T. “Critical Thinking: Why is it So Hard to Teach?.” aft.org. N.p., 2007. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Crit_Thinking.pdf>.
  10. Schlueter, John. “Higher Ed’s Biggest Gamble.” insidehigherid.com. N.p., 7 June 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. <https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/06/07/can-colleges-truly-teach-critical-thinking-skills-essay>.
    Calvin College openURL resolver
  11. Nazaryan, Alexander. “You’re 100 Percent Wrong about Critical Thinking.” newsweek.com. N.p., 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.newsweek.com/youre-100-percent-wrong-about-critical-thinking-362334>.
  12. Powers, Ben, perf. Why is Critical Thinking so Important?. 2012. Web. 21 July 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmgmgrwpIP4>.
  13. Tilus, Grant. “6 Critical Thinking Skills You Need to Master Now.” rasmussen.edu. N.p., 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/main/critical-thinking-skills-you-need-to-master-now/>.
  14. Rabinowitz, Phil. “Thinking Critically.” ctb.ku.edu. N.p., 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/analyze/analyze-community-problems-and-solutions/think-critically/main>.
  15. “Critical Thinking:What is it and Why is it so Important?.” getcollegecredit.com. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://getcollegecredit.com/blog/article/critical_thinking_what_is_it_and_why_is_it_so_important>.
  16. Paul, Richard. “The State of Critical Thinking Today.” Criticalthinking.org. N.p., 2004. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-state-of-critical-thinking-today/523>.

Questions

1. What topics are you more likely to think critically about? What does it feel like to go with your instinct rather than think critically about a topic? Have you ever questioned a belief you had and felt uncomfortable about what you learned

2. What is hard about thinking critically? What might keep people from doing it?

3. What problems could there be when people don’t think critically?

4. What could be done to encourage people to think critically? What might make it easier for people to want to think critically?

5. What would the world be like if everyone thought critically? What would it take for everyone in the world to think critically?

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