Critical thinking may be defined as the art of continuous questioning and analysis of two sides of an argument, problem, or context. Furthermore, the ability to think critically requires human beings to embrace a world free of orthodox views and/or sectarian, social norms, in a continuous effort to search for the essence of truth and expand the knowledge base. Critical thinking is an imperative for a cohesive social order as well as the development of an interdependent global focus. As such, it is a priority for educational reform ventures at all levels—from K–12 through postsecondary institutions—that attempt to foster higher order thinking skills in students and provide them with a holistic framework for discerning information in all terrains of scientific inquiry and sociopolitical agendas, toward the advancement of civilization.
Thus, the critical thinking objective, vis-à-vis methods of teaching, is for students to become engaged in a critical dimension—one where analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (higher order thinking skills) are practiced— as opposed to a didactic context where only fragmentation and rote memorization prevail as hallmarks of effective teaching and learning. Clearly, a critical thinker learns how to think rather than what to think.
History Of Critical Thinking
The origins of critical thinking are usually associated with the Golden Age of Athens and Socratic questioning. Indeed, philosophy, from the Greek filo sofia— love of wisdom—encompasses the interdependence of constructs without clear delineations between disciplines and/or subject areas. It was in this context that the Greeks practiced the trivium—grammar, rhetoric, and logic—and quadrivium—arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. Socrates’ teachings centered on a continuous dialogue and in-depth examination of an issue through the use of questions and answers to arrive at a quasi-finite conclusion or argument. This context served as the framework for what was to become the empirical view, practiced by Aristotle, as opposed to the idealistic or absolute world of ideas, promoted by Plato. In his painting The School of Athens, the Renaissance artist Raphael depicts the duality between the acceptance of absolute truths (Plato) and the questioning of static knowledge (Aristotle).
Indeed, it was the Aristotelian paradigm that eventually transcended through the ages and influenced the minds of those who played an active role in the Enlightenment; it was in this context that the adoption of skepticism and consistent intellectual debate were accepted as essentials for objectivity or accuracy in thinking. On these premises, a liberal arts education model was founded in Europe and later implemented in the colonial colleges.
Critical Thinking And Teaching
Teaching students how to think cannot be carried out in isolation. The very nature of this intellectual exercise requires the absence of what educational thinker Paulo Freire referred to as “banking education”— where knowledge is literally “deposited” in the learner’s mind. Teaching students how to think calls for a reflective pedagogy or dialogue whereby the students and teacher collaborate and build on preexisting knowledge.
There are myriad teaching methods that will foster critical thinking skills. Each of these must promote the disciplining of the mind toward thinking that involves reflexivity, skepticism, and a holistic approach to teaching and learning. Teachers in the elementary grades may begin to move students beyond rote memorization and fragmentation of facts by providing them with opportunities for the appreciation of cultural diversity. At the postsecondary level, college professors must actively engage students in processes that demand the evaluation of knowledge. For example, in a college history course, students may be asked to read articles and consider the issue of “voice” within the context of historiography, given the dominant or sociopolitical forces of the period. Students in a sociology course may be required to develop an archival document that represents a specific neighborhood or community.
Thinking that does not allow one to question or analyze two sides of an argument is driven by fallacies and, thus, is nonprogressive in the human quest to advance knowledge. The first decade of the twenty-first century calls for a global citizenship platform. This requires that individuals practice a liberal education and be able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the very elements that constitute the social fabric.
Although educational reform must continue to respond to the call for accountability at the K–12 as well as postsecondary levels, educators must work to emphasize a critical pedagogy. Within this context, thinking that is critical aims to provide a teaching method that allows for open-ended questions, while evaluating new theories through continuous reflection and mental discipline. Critical thinking is an imperative for the human experience and the pursuit of a democratic world order.
- Freire, P. (2002). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Press.
- Gabennesch, H. (2006). Critical thinking: What is it good for? (In fact, what is it?). The Skeptical Inquirer, 38(3), 36–41.
- McMahon, C. M. (Ed.). (2005). Critical thinking: Unfinished business. New Directions for Community College Journal, 130.
- Paul, R. (1995). Critical thinking: How to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
- Yuretich, R. F. (2004). Encouraging critical thinking. Journal of College Science Teaching, 33(3), 40–46.
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