Culture of Discussion: Critical Thinking
In yesterday's blog entry, I put critical thinking in the context of education because that's precisely where those skills and patterns of thinking ought to be nurtured and developed. I noted that a good liberal arts school -- such as Baylor University -- teaches its students to think critically.
But to be frank, I've not reflected consciously at any great length about what critical thinking is even though I believe that I'm reasonably good at the practice of critical thinking. In yesterday's brief reflection on what it is, I identified two basic questions and one broader one. The three of these, I suggested, were variants on the question "Why?":
More specifically, critical, creative thinking requires that one rework this 'why-question' by asking two basic but compound (and perhaps complex) questions about a particular belief to be evaluated: 1) What are the reasons for holding your belief and how good are they? 2) What is the evidence supporting this belief and how good is it? These two questions orient one toward sorting out well-grounded from ill-grounded beliefs and toward laying a foundation of more-or-less dependable knowledge.I wasn't entirely satisfed with this formulation and wanted to do some more reflecting on what critical thinking is. In looking around on the internet, I found a useful article by Dr. Peter A. Facione, "Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts," which can be downloaded at a site called Insight Assessment. It runs to 24 pages but is quite readable. I won't summarize, not today anyway, but I will post a couple of quotes.
Beyond these two compound questions is another 'why-question' -- the sort of question that asks about significance. Suppose that a belief is supported by good reasons and solid evidence. One could still wonder why a belief is important and therefore pose the question: "What is the significance of this belief?" This question orients one toward evaluating significant beliefs from less significant ones and determining how coherently they all fit together.
First, let me post what Facione provided as the "Expert Consensus Statement Regarding Critical Thinking and the Ideal Critical Thinker":
We understand critical thinking to be 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. CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, openminded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society. (Page 22)By the admission that critical thinking is not synonymous with good thinking, the experts mean that critical thinking can be used for self-interested aims at the expense of others, which I don't want to get into at the moment but which would surely imply that critical thinking be broadly taught in order to counter this.
Second, allow me to post a 'cute' little heuristic that Facione provides on page 24, an acronym that serves as mnemonic device and rule of thumb for critical thinking:
Six Questions for Effective Thinking and Problem-Solving: "IDEALS"As I noted, kind of cute. Maybe 'too' cute. But useful nonetheless. I'll leave you with these quotes and maybe get back to this material tomorrow.
Identify the problem. -- "What’s the real question we're facing here?"
Define the context. -- "What are the facts and circumstances that frame this problem?"
Enumerate choices. -- "What are our most plausible three or four options?"
Analyze options. -- "What is our best course of action, all things considered?"
List reasons explicitly. -- "Exactly why we are making this choice rather than another?"
Self-correct. -- "Okay, let's look at it again. What did we miss?"
Right now, I have other duties that call me away from the computer.