Critical Thinking

Can Critical Thinking Be Defined?

A recent Wall Street Journal article asks: “Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ but What Is That?” (October 21, 2104).

The subtitle asserts that critical thinking, while an “important skill for young workers,” has “a variety of definitions.”  It’s no secret that critical thinking requires a variety of skills and dispositions, some of which are mentioned in the article, and that the term has been defined differently (perhaps unsurprisingly so) by writers from different backgrounds, professions, and theoretical orientations. But the implied message is that we are thrashing about trying to lay our hands on some elusive conception of the art.

What is problematic is the article’s focus on the notion that there are multiple incompatible descriptions of critical thinking each vying for the status… Continue reading

The Aristotelian Foundations of Critical Thinking

Dialectic and rhetoric have acquired negative connotations in the last several decades. This presentation suggests that a return to the Aristotelian notions of dialectic and rhetoric can recover the valid senses of those terms, and provide a standpoint from which contemporary contributions to rhetoric and argumentation theory (e.g., Perelman, Grootendorst/van Eemeren) can be viewed in a positive way. An overview of fallacies rounds out how logic, argumentation theory and rhetoric intersect to comprise the subject matter of modern critical thinking as a locus of interdisciplinary study.

Here is the link to the SlideShare:
Aristotelian Foundations of Critical Thinking from William Minto.

Dispensing With Facts

“If your faith is big enough, facts don’t count.”

It is tempting to dismiss this sort of claim as nonsense. But suppose it isn’t nonsense, i.e., that there was some attempt at thought involved in making this claim. What could that be?

One answer is suggested by a post earlier this month on where the author proposes a “critical thinking framework” for evaluating truth claims called the ASK framework.

The basic assumption of this framework is that there are no uninterpreted facts.

You may have heard the saying “the facts speak for themselves.” But stop and think for a moment: do they really? If you walk along a creek and notice some fossils in the rocks, do the fossils tell you how old they are or how… Continue reading

Employers’ Demand for Critical Thinking Skills Triples

According to the Website, the proportion of posted job descriptions calling for “critical thinking” has increased 300% over the past seven years. This is consistent with other observations that critical thinking in the workplace continues to increase in significance.

“Islamophobia” and Other Illegitimate Neologisms

In common usage, “phobia” connotes fear. Nevertheless, the term “Islamophobe” can legitimately be applied to people with a prejudicial hatred of Muslims, too. On the other hand, when the term is used to characterize someone with informed critical objections to the substance of Islamic doctrine, it is a smear. The proper term to describe the informed critic is “anti-Islamist.”

Phobias as Psychiatric Disorders

A perceived danger will provoke a “flight or fight” response in any animal, human beings included. When a person’s perception routinely misrepresents the actual severity of a type of threat, this might indicate the presence of a “phobia.” A fear of spiders, for example, is arachnophobia; a fear of heights is acrophobia.  In the most common psychiatric sense of the term, a phobia is an… Continue reading

Critical Thinking Education Works – But How Well?

A published review of 117 empirical studies assessing the impact of critical thinking instruction on critical thinking (CT) skills and dispositions confirms my suspicions: some instruction has a powerful positive effect and some instruction has no effect at all. Overall, these results support the view that, on balance, there is a measurable positive effect. And there are tentative indications of what kind of instruction fosters the most marked improvements in critical thinking.

In their paper “Instructional Interventions Affecting Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions: A Stage 1 Meta-Analysis,” (Review of Educational Research 78:4, December 2008), Philip Abrami and six Canadian co-authors attempt to derive measurements of the effect of pedagogical “interventions” intended to improve critical thinking.

In their meta-analysis, Abrami et al. used Ennis’ taxonomy to divide the studies into… Continue reading

Science Education is Not Enough

One of the goals of effective thinking advocacy is to help people relieve themselves of some of their kooky notions. This is a goal that is shared with those in the skeptic movement, who think that spreading public understanding of science will help people reject pseudoscience and reach conclusions based on reason and evidence. It seems plausible enough: teach people about evolution, for example, and they should reach the conclusion that neither man nor beast really came from the mythical Garden of Eden.

Wouldn’t we expect that people exposed to some university-level coursework in science will be better equipped to evaluate scientific claims critically, and distinguish genuine scientific knowledge from pseudoscience and generic hokum? It turns out that it doesn’t, according to a new paper from Massimo Pigliucci. For rational… Continue reading

The Critical Thinking Left

We tend to think of the methods and attitudes of critical thinking as politically neutral. We suppose that critical thinking doesn’t discriminate; any appeal to tradition or authority is subject to critical challenge, regardless of what tradition or whose authority is in question. Nevertheless, there is a faction within the critical thinking “movement” that does have some affinity with left-wing politics. I call this faction the “critical thinking left,” to distinguish its theoretical slant from its political commitments.* Its prevalence among educational reformers helps explain the Texas GOP’s doubts about the teaching of critical thinking.

Identifying Assumptions; Imagining Alternatives

Critical thinkers universally acknowledge the importance of identifying and challenging assumptions, and of imagining and exploring alternatives. Clearly, assumption-hunting has an important role to play, and I include it as one of the… Continue reading

Do Conservatives Oppose Critical Thinking?

A juicy tidbit has been going around the Internet over the past few days that seems to confirm some of our worst fears about an anti-intellectual streak within the GOP. On the surface, it seems like the GOP in Texas, at least, has come out against critical thinking. Despite some apparent backpedaling, I think they might be onto something.

GOP Platform Fail?

H/T to Zen Faulkes who, in a recent post at NeuroDojo, drew attention to a plank in the platform of the Republican Party of Texas (RPT). To quote from the platform document directly:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have… Continue reading

Are Critical Thinking Skills Transferable?

In my post of 5/5/2012, I referred to a discussion of a 2010 AMA Critical Skills Survey in which executives were asked several questions about employee’s competencies at “21st Century skills.” The survey was sponsored in part by P21, an educational reform organization leading an effort to integrate “the Four Cs” into the K-12 system via curriculum reform. The P21 movement has vocal critics over at Common Core, among them E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them. Their objections are based on a skeptical view of the transferability of critical thinking skills across subject domains (which they ascribe to P21). I think they overstate the case.

The crux of the argument is articulated by Hirsch as follows:… Continue reading