Should We Teach Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is a topic I've been trying to learn more about. It is a slow process for me. That probably explains why I am doubtful others, aside from science teachers or those engaged in Socratic Seminars, know it. Of course, it could be I'm just ignorant. That's probably more like it.

I'm perhaps a bit slow to the party. As I journey through my fifth decade, I find myself questioning what I was taught. While any young person will do that, I am ashamed that I eschewed the study of history and dodged critical thinking. I dropped that Logic class in college. It reminded me too much of mathematics, and I didn't really need it to graduate. But then, that wasn't the point, was it? I needed it for life, but didn't realize it at the time.
Through critical thinking, as I understand it, we acquire a means of assessing and upgrading our ability to judge well. It enables us to go into virtually any situation and to figure out the logic of whatever is happening in that situation. It provides a way for us to learn from new experiences through the process of continual self-assessment. 
Critical thinking, then, enables us to form sound beliefs and judgments, and in doing so, provides us with a basis for a 'rational and reasonable' emotional life. — Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines, Winter, 1996. Vol. XVI, No. 2

So, as I start to question everything, being careful to not throw the baby out with the bath water, I have put a few beliefs on notice. It would be foolish to take long-term action on any of those at this time. In the meantime, I'm back to searching for a process to replace how I approach problems and solution development.

It may be, in all honesty, a futile attempt. At some point, life is a bit too complicated to navigate without setting some parameters, defaulting to things we came to believe even though they are just so much fiction. Convenient, comfortable...fiction.


It seems foolish to me to even ask the question. We should be teaching critical thinking to everyone, K-Adult. But do we? My own experience suggests otherwise....

ReDiscovering the Process

As I learn this, I find myself reading different books on the subject. I'm trying to internalize the process, but it remains difficult. I need to apply it more, to explore the more esoteric aspects (to me, perhaps not to you).

In one of the books I read, Simon Bradley's and Nicole Price's Critical Thinking: Proven Strategies to Improve Decision-Making Skills, Increase Intuition, and Think Smarter! it is described in this way:
  • Assumptions and Situation: The more you question the setting, the more likely you are to find the correct solution quickly.
    • Are you right in thinking that this...
    • Do you think that your supposition about this...
    • How come you assume this straightaway?
    • Does this belief always hold true?
  • Evidence Collected or Presented: Question the evidence.
    • Where did you get the evidence?
    • What was the situation when you collected the evidence?
    • How much is the situation likely to change since you collected the evidence?
    • What are the reasons for assuming this evidence is right?
  • Stating the Problem: Make a clear question that states it. Then analyze whether the problem could be made any different.
    • Can you make it into smaller questions?
    • Is there any significance in the question?
    • If somebody else were to state the problem, how would it all change?
  • Using Perspective: Change and use the viewpoint of the question or problem.
    • How would a person, opposed to your stand, view this problem?
    • Is there a better or worse way of looking at things?
    • Will the perspective change over time?
  • Results and Consequences: Talk about consequences.
    • What will happen in this situation?
    • Is there a chance that this will not happen?
    • What alternative solutions do we have at this point?
The book goes on to point out that "We are looking for inconsistencies. The things that will not stand up to reason need further investigation." 

In my previous blog entry on Exploring Critical Thinking, I shared this five step process:

  • STEP 1- IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM. Define the problem. Try to state it in a single declarative sentence. Then go through the pros and cons of the problem. Weigh the cost of not resolving it. 

  • STEP 2- ANALYZE THE PROBLEM. Look at it from different points of view.  Is it real or perceived? Is it solvable? Can you solve it alone or do you need help? Be aware of bias or a narrow point of view that needs to be broadened.

  • STEP 3- BRAINSTORM. Come up with several possible solutions. Brainstorm a list of several possible solutions. Do not reject any outright without further study. You never know when part of a solution that first seemed unlikely turns out to help the thinking go in a new direction.Write down anything that comes to mind. Then review the list before narrowing it down to the best options. In this way, you are more likely to get the best results.

  • STEP 4- PICK THE BEST SOLUTION. Take some time to decide what will work best for the problem at hand. It is important to remember: What works in one situation, may not work in a similar one… in other words beware of always falling back on what’s worked in the past.

  • STEP 5- IMPLEMENT THE SOLUTION. It’s important to understand that sometimes the solution may be to simply accept the situation. All problems that have been critically examined lead to personal growth opportunities.

They looks quite similar. But knowing the process isn't enough. More study is merited.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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