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
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).
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
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.