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Critical Thinking

The term critical thinking is broadly used in educational circles. It is often associated with "higher order" thinking. As often as not critical thinking is described as a specific set of skills. When I use the term critical thinking, the context is from the Critical Thinking Movement. This form of critical thinking is best described in the book by Richard Paul, Critical Thinking, how to prepare students for a rapidly changing world, 1993, The Foundation For Critical Thinking, Santa Rosa, CA. The Center for Critical Thinking is located at Sonoma State University provides basic information on critical thinking as well as useful resources and references, and an archive of on going discussions.

My use of the term hypothesis is neither unique to scientists nor critical thinkers, but it is helpful to understand its relationship to other elements of critical thinking. Critical thinking involves several elements which include the following:

  • Purpose for Thinking: goal, objective
  • Question at Issue: the problem
  • Concepts: theories, definitions, axioms, laws, principles, models
  • Assumptions: presuppositions, taken for granted
  • Information: data, facts, observations, experiences
  • Interpretations & Inferences: conclusions, solutions
  • Points of View: frame of reference, perspective, orientation
  • Consequences & Implications
Hypotheses fall into the category of concepts. Concepts are mental constructs which may or may not be consistent with the real world. Students bring misconceptions into the classroom all the time and it is our job to challenge their thinking and provide an experiential base for reconstructing how they know their world that is consistent with the laws of the natural world. The consequence of student notions is the hypothesis, the model of how they think things work. It provides us the opportunity for them to learn to think scientifically, think critically by testing their models on our terms (the laboratory).

In addition to these elements of reason, critical thinkers subject their thinking to universal standards such as clear, precise, relevant, accurate, deep, significant, consistent, broad, logical, realistic, rational, and fair. The goal of course, is to teach such standards to our students so that they acquire the traits of critical thinkers which include intellectual independence, empathy, humility, courage, integrity, perseverance, curiosity, civility, responsibility, and faith in reason. To me, this is what education should be about.


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