What is critical thinking? Why is it important to cultivate it in ourselves and our students? How do we go about doing so? Where can you find some resources to help?
Let’s start with a brief snapshot of what critical thinking is. According to Scriven and Paul (Defining Critical Thinking):
Critical thinking is “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”
So…what does that look like in practice? They describe a critical thinker as someone who:
- raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
- gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
- thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
- communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
As human beings, our brains tend to choose shortcuts to save energy and, as a result, we sometimes pick mental paths which are based on bias and not on well-reasoned information. (If you’d like to read a fascinating book on this topic and one that provides a more fulsome explanation than the oversimplification above, I’d recommend Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.) Critical thinking requires us to push past our inclination for the easy way and dig into our thoughts, gather information (not just data that agrees with our preliminary line of thought), assess it and be willing to change our minds.
So, why does this matter and how do we do it?