Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and there are several different definitions which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.
Critical thinking was described by Richard W. Paul as a movement in two waves (1994). The "first wave" of critical thinking is often referred to as a 'critical analysis' that is clear, rational thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Barry K. Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged. The U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the "intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."
In the term critical thinking, the word critical, (Grk. κριτικός = kritikos = "critic") derives from the word critic and implies a critique; it identifies the intellectual capacity and the means "of judging", "of judgement", "for judging", and of being "able to discern".
Traditionally, critical thinking has been variously defined as:
- "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion"
- "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"
- "reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do"
- "purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based"
- "includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs"
- the skill and propensity to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (McPeck, 1981)
- disciplined, self-directed thinking which exemplifies the perfection of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking (Paul, 1989, p. 214)
- thinking about one's thinking in a manner designed to organize and clarify, raise the efficiency of, and recognize errors and biases in one's own thinking. Critical thinking is not 'hard' thinking nor is it directed at solving problems (other than 'improving' one's own thinking). Critical thinking is inward-directed with the intent of maximizing the rationality of the thinker. One does not use critical thinking to solve problems—one uses critical thinking to improve one's process of thinking.
- "an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation"
- the ability to think clearly about what to do or what to believe.
Contemporary critical thinking scholars have expanded these traditional definitions to include qualities, concepts, and processes such as creativity, imagination, discovery, reflection, empathy, connecting knowing, feminist theory, subjectivity, ambiguity, and inconclusiveness. Some definitions of critical thinking exclude these subjective practices.
Logic and rationality
Main article: Logic and rationality
The ability to reason logically is a fundamental skill of rational agents, hence the study of the form of correct argumentation is relevant to the study of critical thinking.
"First wave" logical thinking consisted of understanding the connections between two concepts or points in thought. It followed a philosophy where the thinker was removed from the train of thought and the connections and the analysis of the connect was devoid of any bias of the thinker. Kerry Walters describes this ideology in his essay Beyond Logicism in Critical Thinking, "A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective. This model of thinking has become so entrenched in conventional academic wisdom that many educators accept it as canon" (Walters, 1994, p. 1). The adoption of these principals parallel themselves with the increasing reliance on quantitative understanding of the world.
In the ‘second wave’ of critical thinking, as defined by Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994, p. 1 ), many authors moved away from the logocentric mode of critical thinking that the ‘first wave’ privileged, especially in institutions of higher learning. Walters summarizes logicism as "the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking" (1994, p. 1).
"A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective." (Walters, 1994, p. 1) As the ‘second wave’ took hold, scholars began to take a more inclusive view of what constituted as critical thinking. Rationality and logic are still widely accepted in many circles as the primary examples of critical thinking.
Deduction, Abduction and Induction
Main article: logical reasoning
There are three types of logical reasoning Informally, two kinds of logical reasoning can be distinguished in addition to formal deduction: induction and abduction.e.g. X is human and all humans have a face so X has a face.
- Induction is drawing a conclusion from a pattern that is guaranteed by the strictness of the structure to which it applies.
- Abduction is drawing a conclusion using a heuristic which is likely but not certain given some foreknowledge.
Critical thinking and rationality
Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994) argues that rationality demands more than just logical or traditional methods of problem solving and analysis or what he calls the "calculus of justification" but also considers "cognitive acts such as imagination, conceptual creativity, intuition and insight" (p. 63). These "functions" are focused on discovery, on more abstract processes instead of linear, rules-based approaches to problem solving. The linear and non-sequential mind must both be engaged in the rationalmind.
The ability to critically analyze an argument – to dissect structure and components, thesis and reasons – is important. But so is the ability to be flexible and consider non-traditional alternatives and perspectives. These complementary functions are what allow for critical thinking a practice encompassing imagination and intuition in cooperation with traditional modes of deductive inquiry.
The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition. According to Reynolds (2011), an individual or group engaged in a strong way of critical thinking gives due consideration to establish for instance:
- Evidence through reality
- Context skills to isolate the problem from context
- Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
- Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
- Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand
In addition to possessing strong critical-thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
- Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
- Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
- Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
- Recognize unstated assumptions and values
- Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
- Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
- Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
- Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
- Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
- Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
- Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life
"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends."
Habits or traits of mind
The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.
According to a definition analysis by Kompf & Bond (2001), critical thinking involves problem solving, decision making, metacognition, rationality, rational thinking, reasoning, knowledge, intelligence and also a moral component such as reflective thinking. Critical thinkers therefore need to have reached a level of maturity in their development, possess a certain attitude as well as a set of taught skills.
Edward M. Glaser proposed that the ability to think critically involves three elements:
- An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences
- Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning
- Some skill in applying those methods.
Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.
The Critical Thinking project at Human Science Lab, London, is involved in scientific study of all major educational system in prevalence today to assess how the systems are working to promote or impede critical thinking.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.
The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. A measure of critical thinking dispositions is the California Measure of Mental Motivation and the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory.
John Dewey is one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit the individual learner, the community, and the entire democracy.
Critical thinking is significant in academics due to being significant in learning. Critical thinking is significant in the learning process of internalization, in the construction of basic ideas, principles, and theories inherent in content. And critical thinking is significant in the learning process of application, whereby those ideas, principles, and theories are implemented effectively as they become relevant in learners' lives.
Each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles. The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject-specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
Historically, teaching of critical thinking focused only on logical procedures such as formal and informal logic. This emphasized to students that good thinking is equivalent to logical thinking. However, a second wave of critical thinking, urges educators to value conventional techniques, meanwhile expanding what it means to be a critical thinker. In 1994, Kerry Walters compiled a conglomeration of sources surpassing this logical restriction to include many different authors’ research regarding connected knowing, empathy, gender-sensitive ideals, collaboration, world views, intellectual autonomy, morality and enlightenment. These concepts invite students to incorporate their own perspectives and experiences into their thinking.
In the English and Welsh school systems, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCRexam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full Advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There used to also be an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills.
From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance has also been offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification.
OCRexam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
In Qatar, critical thinking was offered by AL-Bairaq which is an outreach, non-traditional educational program that targets high school students and focuses on a curriculum based on STEM fields. The idea behind AL-Bairaq is to offer high school students the opportunity to connect with the research environment in the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Faculty members train and mentor the students and help develop and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.[not in citation given]
In 1995, a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education was undertaken. The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. It concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they have tended to aim at facts and concepts utilizing lowest levels of cognition, rather than developing intellect or values.
In a more recent meta-analysis, researchers reviewed 341 quasi- or true-experimental studies, all of which used some form of standardized critical thinking measure to assess the outcome variable. The authors describe the various methodological approaches and attempt to categorize the differing assessment tools, which include standardized tests (and second-source measures), tests developed by teachers, tests developed by researchers, and tests developed by teachers who also serve the role as the researcher. The results emphasized the need for exposing students to real-world problems and the importance in encouraging open dialogue within a supportive environment. Effective strategies for teaching critical thinking are thought to be possible in a wide variety of educational settings.
Importance in academia
Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
 However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.
Critical thinking skills can be used to help nurses during the assessment process. Through the use of critical thinking, nurses can question, evaluate, and reconstruct the nursing care process by challenging the established theory and practice. Critical thinking skills can help nurses problem solve, reflect, and make a conclusive decision about the current situation they face. Critical thinking creates "new possibilities for the development of the nursing knowledge." Due to the sociocultural, environmental, and political issues that are affecting healthcare delivery, it would be helpful to embody new techniques in nursing. Nurses can also engage their critical thinking skills through the Socratic method of dialogue and reflection. This practice standard is even part of some regulatory organizations such as the College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006). It requires nurses to engage in Reflective Practice and keep records of this continued professional development for possible review by the College.
Critical thinking is also considered important for human rights education for toleration. The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO in 1995 affirms that "education for tolerance could aim at countering factors that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and could help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning."
Critical thinking is used as a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process.
Critical thinking in computer-mediated communication
The advent and rising popularity of online courses has prompted some to ask if computer-mediated communication (CMC) promotes, hinders, or has no effect on the amount and quality of critical thinking in a course (relative to face-to-face communication). There is some evidence to suggest a fourth, more nuanced possibility: that CMC may promote some aspects of critical thinking but hinder others. For example, Guiller et al. (2008) found that, relative to face-to-face discourse, online discourse featured more justifications, while face-to-face discourse featured more instances of students expanding on what others had said. The increase in justifications may be due to the asynchronous nature of online discussions, while the increase in expanding comments may be due to the spontaneity of ‘real time’ discussion. Newman et al. (1995) showed similar differential effects. They found that while CMC boasted more important statements and linking of ideas, it lacked novelty. The authors suggest that this may be due to difficulties participating in a brainstorming-style activity in an asynchronous environment. Rather, the asynchrony may promote users to put forth “considered, thought out contributions.”
Researchers assessing critical thinking in online discussion forums often employ a technique called Content Analysis, where the text of online discourse (or the transcription of face-to-face discourse) is systematically coded for different kinds of statements relating to critical thinking. For example, a statement might be coded as “Discuss ambiguities to clear them up” or “Welcoming outside knowledge” as positive indicators of critical thinking. Conversely, statements reflecting poor critical thinking may be labeled as “Sticking to prejudice or assumptions” or “Squashing attempts to bring in outside knowledge.” The frequency of these codes in CMC and face-to-face discourse can be compared to draw conclusions about the quality of critical thinking.
Searching for evidence of critical thinking in discourse has roots in a definition of critical thinking put forth by Kuhn (1991), which places more emphasis on the social nature of discussion and knowledge construction. There is limited research on the role of social experience in critical thinking development, but there is some evidence to suggest it is an important factor. For example, research has shown that 3- to 4-year-old children can discern, to some extent, the differential creditability and expertise of individuals. Further evidence for the impact of social experience on the development of critical thinking skills comes from work that found that 6- to 7-year-olds from China have similar levels of skepticism to 10- and 11-year-olds in the United States. If the development of critical thinking skills was solely due to maturation, it is unlikely we would see such dramatic differences across cultures.
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- ^Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning, p. 46
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- ^Dewey, John. (1910). How we think. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Co.
- ^Walters, Kerry. (1994). Re-Thinking Reason. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
- ^Critical Thinking FAQs from Oxford Cambridge and RSA ExaminationsArchived 11 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
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- ^"New GCEs for 2008", Assessment and Qualifications Alliance Archived 17 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^"Welcome to Al-Bairaq World". Archived from the original on 19 April 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
- ^Lion Gardiner, Redesigning Higher Education: Producing Dramatic Gains in Student Learning, in conjunction with: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, 1995
- ^ abAbrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Waddington, D. I., Wade, C. A., & Persson, T. (2014). Strategies for Teaching Students to Think Critically: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 1–40
- ^Critical thinking is considered important in the academic fields because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure their thinking, thereby decreasing the risk of adopting, acting on, or thinking with, a false belief.
- ^Lau, Joe; Chan, Jonathan. "[F08] Cognitive biases". Critical thinking web. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
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- ^College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006)
- ^"International Day for Tolerance . Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, Article 4, 3". UNESCO. Retrieved 2016-02-24.
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- ^Kuhn, D (1991). The skills of argument. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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- College of Nurses of Ontario Professional Standards (2006) – Continuing Competencies
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Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
Questions and Answers on Adult Education
Edited by Daniel Schugurensky
This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.
What is critical thinking, and how can it be promoted by adult educators?
By Shenaz Damji, Mary Dell'Anno, Mary McGrath and Joanna Warden (OISE/UT)
Towards a Definition of Critical Thinking: A Historical Perspective
Although the principles of Critical Thinking underpin much of Western Philosophy, it did not come to the fore as a specific concept until the late Nineteenth Century. Philosophical discussion of critical inquiry surfaced in the 1870's in the United States, when Charles Sanders Peirce, who believed that logic is the scientific method that will lead us to truth, originated the concept of pragmatism. Pragmatism stresses the relation of theory to practice (or what Paulo Freire called �praxis,� meaning reflection and action upon the world in order to change it).
Peirce�s social emphasis grew in the hands of George Herbert Mead, and became important to John Dewey, who argued for a model of critical thinking based on a theory of knowing that is continuous. He adopted Peirce�s notion of meaning, and focused on the connection that thinking has with experience, doing, and the consequences of action. Dewey subscribed to the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and described his approach to inquiry as �reflective thinking,� to distinguish it from ordinary thinking.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Antigonish Movement launched discussion of critical thinking in Canada. During the same period, Edward Glaser wrote An Experiment in the Development of Critical thinking (1941) and developed the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Test (1940), which is credited by Richard Paul for stirring renewed interest in critical thinking in the U.S.
Harvey Seigel, however, credits the renewed interest in critical thinking to Robert Ennis� article �A Concept of Critical Thinking�, published in 1962. Ennis, who developed Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, defined critical thinking as �reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to do or believe.� He pointed to issues of evaluating critical thinking skills, through the development of critical thinking tests, and issues concerning the instruction of critical thinking.
Matthew Lipman, who had developed a Philosophy for Children program in the late 1960s, criticized Ennis� definition of critical thinking as focused on the outcomes rather than its essential characteristics. Lipman defined critical thinking as �skilful, responsible thinking that facilitates good judgement because it (1) relies upon criteria, (2) is self-correcting, and (3) is sensitive to context.�
Richard Paul devised the concept of �weak sense� and �strong sense� critical thinking to signify quality and depth of thinking. Paul pointed out the need for a critical thinker to have a certain disposition and character traits; he helps us see the role of self in critical thinking. Paul�s definition of critical thinking includes aspects of Ennis, McPeck, Lipman, Glaser and Black, as well as aspects of critical thinking that have not been included before.
John McPeck, a Canadian philosopher following in the steps of Max Black, published in 1981 a text entitled Critical Thinking and Education. For McPeck, critical thinking is a subset of rational thinking, and rational thinking is �the intelligent use of all available evidence for the solution of some problem.� His approach set up a debate between theorists such as Robert Ennis and Richard Paul, who argued that critical thinking is a general skill, not necessarily subject-specific. Harvey Seigel (1988) in Educating Reason, argued that the two schools of thought (McPeck and Ennis/Paul) were correct, because critical thinking was both a general and specific skill. Seigel, who placed an emphasis on principles, argued that the two dimensions of critical thinking are the �reason assessment� and the �critical spirit� components. More than knowing how to assess reasons, a person must also be disposed to do so; and more than having critical thinking skills, a person must use them. Like Ennis and Paul, Siegel is concerned that the character of a person may interfere with the execution of critical thought.
Freire�s (1970) concept of critical thinking contrasts with that of most North American philosophers. Freire�s conscientisation (which can be translated as �critical unerstanding of reality�) shares with Ennis, McPeck, Siegel, Paul, and Lipman the belief that critical thinking should be taught through dialogue, and that critical thinkers must think for themselves to arrive at Truth. However, Freire�s concept is historical. He points out two distinct layers of critical thought: respectful dialogue between participants in the learning process, and �structural perception� (understanding the oppressive social system). Paul�s �strong sense� critical thinking tries to address exactly what Freire addresses. However, while Paul begins with an assumption that human nature is egocentric, Freire assumes that people become the way they are through a transaction between themselves and their environment.
Most recently, Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon (2000), has added a gender analysis to critical thinking. Using an analogy of a quilting bee, she maintains that the disagreements between Ennis, Paul,Siegel, and McPeck help point to what distinguishes constructive thinking theory from critical thinking theory. Unlike these theorists, she attempts to avoid seeing critical thinkers as �individual, disembodied minds,� and instead envisions a community of thinkers (quilters) using tools to critique our information (pins and scissors), and intuition (needle and thread) to put our ideas (the fabric) together, using imagination to decide the pattern.
Putting it into Context --The Principles of Critical Thinking
To assess the value of critical thinking in adult education it is useful to compare the fundamental principles of critical thinking with those of the dominant philosophies of adult learning. When we juxtapose the methods and objectives of critical thinking with those of the community movement, self-directed learning, and transformative learning, we find some points of conflict but many moments of convergence. On the whole, then, we can say that critical thinking is consistent with the values of adult education, with one small caveat.
A convenient starting point in our investigation was the website of Walker Teaching Resource Centre at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (http://www.utc.edu/Teaching-Resource-Centre/critical.html). On this site, critical thinking is conceptualized as �a process which involves analyzing assumptions and being aware of one�s own thinking�; the thinker then �use[s] this awareness to correct what [he or she] is doing.� In general terms, critical thinking is a discipline which favours reason over emotion. Critical thinkers acquire portable skills which can be applied to other tasks at a later date. The site also discusses several classroom techniques, many of which feature cooperative or group learning. Equipped with this information, we undertook the task of comparing these precepts with those outlined in several chapters of one of the readings that we used in the course Outline of Adult Education, namely the book Learning for Life: Canadian Readings in Adult Education, edited by Scott, Spencer and Thomas (1998).
The community adult education movement, as exemplified by the Antigonish Movement, used small group practical education to improve skills and raise consciousness. Critical thinking can be seen as useful in two ways. First, the villagers of Antigonish were hidebound by their unthinking allegiance to the big bosses and the corporate structure. Critical thinking would have taught them to imagine a different situation. Furthermore, the Antigonish movement sought to educate its members so that they would be able to continue learning outside the educational structure; critical thinking also attempts to teach strategies which the learner can adapt to use beyond the formal learning situation. Finally, the Antigonish form of education, the use of small cooperative groups is a technique employed frequently by Critical Thinking educators (Cooper 1995).
Self-directed Learning has many forms and interpretations, but if we see it in terms of P.C. Candy�s objective of self-management we can observe that critical thinking can help to achieve this goal. Just as in the Antigonish Movement, critical thinking can be used to change the student�s learning, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Thus, by acquiring the tools of critical thinking, the student gains the ability to set his or her own educational agenda, thereby developing educational autonomy. On the other hand, the development of critical thinking still requires an instructor to be in the classroom, although his or her role is less autocratic than that of a traditional teacher. This would clash with the most radical forms of Self-Directed Learning, which see the learner as truly independent of education workers.
Transformative Learning requires structural change, a re-evaluation of learning, a vision of the future, and a grounding in conflict theory. Critical Thinking definitely encourages students to question their received knowledge. It often works according to a Conflict Theory model, when learners experience a situation which defies their expectations and are forced to modify their unspoken assumptions. While Critical Thinking does not explicitly require structural change, or a renewed future vision, these two objectives are eminently possible in a Critical Thinking situation.
One small concern arises when we compare Critical Thinking to established Adult Education Practices. In her chapter in the book, Dorothy MacKeracher writes of how senior learners fare less well in exercises grounded in cognitive learning, and better in those which work more on the affective and impressionistic level. This may also be true of other learner groups, especially those who are already vulnerable in some respect. Critical Thinking privileges analytical thinking, and many of its proponents reject work that is based on subjectivity or personal impressions. In such situations, the educator would have to use sensitivity and discretion when working with Critical Thinking models.
Practical Value. The Benefits of Critical Thinking
Life poses a variety of problems that individuals must solve independently. Critical thinking skills are nothing more than problem solving skills that result in reliable knowledge. Humans constantly process information. Critical thinking can be understood as the practice of processing this information in the most skillful, accurate, and rigorous manner possible, in such a way that it leads to the most reliable, logical, and trustworthy conclusions, based upon which one can make responsible decisions about one's life, behavior, and actions with full knowledge of the consequences and underlying assumptions of those decisions.
The value of critical thinking to individuals at least four dimensions:
decision making: A realization that our lives are shaped by global as well as local political, psychological, social, economic, environmental, and physical forces.
growth: comes from interaction with cultures, languages, ethnic groups, religions, nationalities, and social classes other than our own.
refinement of our humane sensibilities: reflecting on recurring questions about human existence, love, life, and death
critical appraisal: of the human condition
The value of critical thinking to society is twofold:
1.protection from political exploitation: an electorate that considers the pros and cons of issues; judges and juries that do not let their biases govern their decisions.
2.protection from economic exploitation: people who are able to analyze and interpret market trends, evaluate the implications of interest fluctuations, and explain the potential impact of those factors which influence large scale production and distribution of goods and services
How to Use it -- Critical Thinking Tools
A search on the Internet under �critical thinking tools� resulted in 752 sites. Generally the sites fall into two categories: strategies for teachers, and guides for adult learners. Three authors whose names appear frequently and whose works are located in the OISE/UT Library are Stephen Brookfield, Richard Paul, and Marilyn Cairns. All three authors clearly envision a need for the redesigning of the way teachers model their lessons. In Paul's view, "a paradigm shift from a didactic to a critical model of education to make higher order thinking a classroom reality" is necessary. (Paul, 1990, p. 233)
Richard Paul in Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World, argues that students learn best in dialogical and dialectical situations and advises educators to use the following strategies (Paul 1990:245).
1. Socratic questioning
2. Critical vocabulary
3. Co-operative learning
4. Multilogical issues
5. Reasoned judgment
6. Recognizing bias (in media)
7. Reflective self-criticism
8. Reasoning 'empathetically ' or within the perspective of others
In a subsequent chapter, Paul recommends that the critical thinking educator focus on the higher order sections of Bloom's Taxonomy: Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation (Paul 1009:423). Finally, in Chapter 21, Paul outlines 35 Dimensions of Critical Thinking. Here he not only lists these strategies, but also indicates how each of these critical thinking principles can be specifically applied as a teaching strategy.
Stephen Brookfield, in Developing Critical Thinking, targets the adult learner and asserts that there are two central activities involved in critical thinking. The first consists of helping people analyze and challenge the assumptions under which they, and others, are thinking and acting. The other is exploring and imagining alternatives to their current ways of thinking and acting. (Brookfield, 1988, p. 69). Brookfield also describes the ideal critical thinking environment for adults as one where six conditions are present:
diversity and divergence would be encouraged;
flexibility of format and direction would be welcomed;
risk taking and spontaneity would be valued;
facilitators would model openness and critical analysis;
there would be no presumption of perfection on the part of the facilitator;
and there would be skepticism of final answers. (1990, p. 71).
Marilyn Cairns, in a text suggestively entitled Which Should I Teach: Critical Thinking or the Facts? Can I do Both?�, offers the critical thinking educator some useful questions to ask herself when designing instruction for students. In effect, she is telling educators to apply the strategies of critical thinking to their own practice.
Brookfield, Stephen D. (1988) Developing Critical Thinking. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Cairns, Marilyn A. Which Should I Teach: Critical Thinking or the Facts? Can I doBoth?http://www.cast.uark.edu/local/tatew/CriticalThinking.html.
Freire, Paulo. Education for Critical Consciousness. Seabury Press, New York, 1973.
Paul, Richard. (1990) Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a RapidlyChanging World. Binker, A.J.A. (Ed.). Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA.
Thayer-Bacon, Barbara J. Transforming Critical Thinking: Thinking Constructively. Teachers College Press, New York, 2000.
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