George Lucas Educational Foundation

Critical Thinking--What's It All About?

Critical Thinking--What's It All About?

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This is one of the biggest fads in education; but I don't see a discussion. My suspicion is that this thing is being oversold. Sure, clear thinking is the goal. But so-called Critical Thinking is typically a way to attack conventional wisdom. It tells kids not to accept what parents or others might say just because they have authority. At a more trivial level, Critical Thinking seems to be saying: consider the evidence, listen to others. That's fine, but certainly not worthy of all the hoopla now being heaped on Critical Thinking. I'm often the contrarian in these matters, so I don't want to make too much of my concerns. But there is one nagging suspicion I do think worthy of your own investigation. If someone did want to teach real critical thinking, would they do it in the manner that Critical Thinking says? Even at the college level, this thing seems to be THINKING LITE. It stays on the surface. It seems to me the first thing you would teach to kids is Aesop’s fables. You would have fun with puzzles and riddles. You would discuss mazes, optical illusions, paradoxes, the simplest syllogisms. The most elementary stuff could be used to warm up young minds and get them used to the idea that there is a better way to go from A to B. Little by little, you could introduce the idea of the hypothesis, the thought experiment, the scientific method, the concept of evidence, and the notion of proof. (Well, I've been working on a piece for weeks, so this topic is much on my mind. If you want the contrarian view, Google "59: Critical Thinking--If Only.")

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swatil's picture
I am a parent of a 2nd grader in London,UK

Teaching children to think is a fundamental concept that most early educators strive to introduce to their young learners. Creative and stimulating strategies that cajole them into analyzing objectively any given challenge, topic or a task are critical to this process. For educators the entire process of inculcating this basic skill evolves from being an engaging activity to the most satisfying, when their young wards perfect the rudimentary skills of this vital aspect of learning. With each higher grade of learning it becomes increasingly important for educators to build the necessary skills in their wards to think beyond the face value of vetexts or topics. Viewing a topic or theme from various perspectives, is the KEY to stimulate learners to think BEYOND and reach a 'Higher Order of Thinking' (HOT).
HOT lays the foundations of critical thinking and with each passing academic year becomes the vital key to achieving academic competence. Bloom's Taxonomy is a much appreciated and adopted thumb of rule to structure and develop gradual levels of thinking higher. The six levels are Remembering, Understanding, Application, Analysis, Evaluation and Creation. These six levels of higher thinking provide the much required framework for acquiring strong critiquing and analysis skills for all age groups of learners. Encouraging learners to move from lowest to the highest levels of thinking will help in developing higher order thinking.

Susan Nichols's picture

I find that the field of teaching critical thinking is sorely lacking in the States, but there is an organization in Canada that has a very useful and teachable model. They are the Critical Thinking Consortium based in Vancouver. The website is Their online workshops are very good once you start to get the basics of their model.

Geoff Dean's picture
Geoff Dean
community college math & physics teacher

I too find that the field of critical thinking is lacking, but what I see as lacking is the range of thinking skills essential for success in fields other than the humanities. For instance, the field as I've seen it doesn't include, or doesn't include clearly enough, the various skills that are part of Piagetian formal operations - asking "what if?", isolating variables and testing them one at a time while holding the others constant, figuring out all the possible combinations of a set of things, identifying direct and inverse relationships. (It does include the Piagetian skill of taking alternate points of view.) And it doesn't include the systems thinking skills that go beyond Piaget's set and which are essential for our understanding of local and global systems - distinguishing levels from rates and identifying feedback loops and time delays in the causal loops in a system. Without these skills, critical thinking is useful for philosophy and not much more.

Let's expand the definition of critical thinking, or maybe make that a part of a broader, more useful field that includes the above skills; let's call it 'creative thinking'.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

UPDATE: I've recently (yet again) run up against Dewey's pronouncement: we don't teach [the subject], we teach the child. (He meant: teach the child to be a little socialist.) But it's those subjects not taught that the child needs. Those subjects provide the fuel for intellectual fire.

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