What IS Critical Thinking? It’s about time we discussed that! thumbnail

What IS Critical Thinking? It’s about time we discussed that!

By John Droz, Jr.

I’ve now written commentary for a few years about Critical Thinking, without formally defining it! Although that might seem to be a bit nonsensical, my position regarding Critical Thinking is similar to that famous phrase about pornography: “It’s hard to define it, but you know it when you see it.”

Why is Critical Thinking a Big Deal? Because there is no more important skill that a student should be taught. The benefits of being a Critical Thinker are amazingly broad, profoundly significant, and lifelong — see this list.

As such, Critical Thinking must be formally included in K-12 Science Standards (e.g., here), and ideally also in State Legislation (e.g., here). An essential part of making those happen is to agree on a definition, so that we are all on the same page.

Another important reason for doing this is to head off-at-the-pass the opponents of Critical Thinking, who will definitely be working to distort its true meaning. By spelling out what Critical Thinking is and is not, such an effort is doomed to fail.

Let’s start with the opposite of Critical Thinking, as that is easier to spell out. The antithesis of Critical Thinking is robotic conformity — i.e., being a lemming or a sheeple. Current K-12 Science Standards (NGSS) teach this!

This message is clearly and persistently communicated by conveying that students should accept what is currently politically correct, go along with consensus, defer to experts, support the conclusions of computer programs, buy into one-sided presentations of facts, etc., etc. [I’ll expand on this in my next commentary.]

Now that we are clear about what we do NOT want to teach students, below is my current draft for K-12 schools. I’m open to simple, constructive improvements, so please feel free to add comments below. NOTEI will periodically update this definition as corrections or improvements are processed…

  1. basic definition is that Critical Thinking is looking at things wider and deeper.
  2. An academic definition is that Critical Thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of skillfully synthesizing, conceptualizing, and evaluating information, as a guide to belief and behavior.
  3. Critical Thinking can be seen as having two teachable components: a) a set of information processing skills, and b) the habit (based on intellectual commitment), of continually using those skills (grounded in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity) to positively influence the thinker’s perspectives and actions.
  4. Students will be taught how to do Critical Thinking in Science classes. Scientists are people who are trained to ask questions (who?, why?, when?, how?, etc.), and questioning what one is told is foundational to Critical Thinking. Critical Thinking will be encouraged and applied in ALL subject areas, from kindergarten through high school.
  5. Critical Thinking will be presented in such a way that students will appreciate its extreme importance in essentially all aspects of life (e.g., employment, selection of a life partner, civic responsibility, maintaining optimal health, etc.).  Some additional outcomes of proper Critical Thinking education are that students will have improved decision-making, better self-management, as well as more self and interpersonal awareness.
  6. Students will be educated about how Critical Thinking is a powerful tool that enables them to be aware of (and sensitive to) internal illusions (e.g., cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias) as well as external deceptions (e.g., media misinformation and groupthink).
  7. Students will be educated that Critical Thinking arguments rely on facts, not feelings (or the much weaker political position of consensus).
  8. Students will be educated that Critical Thinking should be applied (not disengaged) when they encounter claims from computer models and experts.
  9. One’s level of Critical Thinking quality will be a matter of degree, and dependent on factors like attentiveness, commitment, interest in objectivity, etc. concerning particular issues.
  10. (Once properly instilled, the development of the Critical Thinking skill and disposition is a life-long endeavor that should be instinctive, pervasive, empowering, and enjoyable

Let me know any questions, or suggestions for improvements.

©2024. John Droz, Jr. All rights reserved.

FYI, just for kicks, I tried out the latest version of Poe AI: Claude-3.5-Sonnet. I asked: “What is critical thinking?” The answer was reasonably decent:

Critical thinking is the process of actively and skillfully analyzing, evaluating, and applying information to form a judgment or solve a problem. Some key elements of critical thinking include:

  1. Asking questions and identifying assumptions: Critically thinking individuals question information, look for biases, and identify unstated assumptions.
  2. Evaluating evidence: They examine the reliability, relevance, and sufficiency of evidence to support a claim or conclusion.
  3. Considering different perspectives: Critical thinkers try to understand multiple viewpoints on an issue before forming their own opinion.
  4. Drawing logical conclusions: They use sound reasoning to arrive at well-reasoned judgments and solutions.
  5. Reflecting on the thinking process: Critical thinkers think about their own thought processes and are willing to re-evaluate their positions based on new information.

Developing strong critical thinking skills is important for effective decision-making, problem-solving, and being an informed and engaged citizen. It involves cultivating habits of the mind such as intellectual humility, curiosity, and open-mindedness.

Here are other materials by this scientist that you might find interesting:

Check out the Archives of this Critical Thinking substack.

WiseEnergy.orgdiscusses the Science (or lack thereof) behind our energy options.

C19Science.infocovers the lack of genuine Science behind our COVID-19 policies.

Election-Integrity.infomultiple major reports on the election integrity issue.

Media Balance Newsletter: a free, twice-a-month newsletter that covers what the mainstream media does not do, on issues from COVID to climate, elections to education, renewables to religion, etc. Here are the Newsletter’s 2024 Archives. Please send me an email to get your free copy. When emailing me, please make sure to include your full name and the state where you live. (Of course, you can cancel the Media Balance Newsletter at any time – but why would you?