It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.
Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.
Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one's groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.
Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.
Another Brief Conceptualization of Critical Thinking
Why Critical Thinking?
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and
imposing intellectual standards upon them.
A well cultivated critical thinker:
- raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
- gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
- thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
- communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.
(Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008)
Critical Thinking Defined by Edward Glaser
In a seminal study on critical thinking and education in 1941, Edward Glaser defines critical thinking as follows “The ability to think critically, as conceived in this volume, involves three things: ( 1 ) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.
(Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941)
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Paul Everett Thomas
The purpose of this study was to determine to what extent and under what conditions high school teachers articulate and demonstrate elements of critical thinking in their instruction. The design of the study was to interview high school teachers and to observe them in their classrooms with regard to critical-thinking instruction. Forty teachers were interviewed from six public high schools in the greater Los Angeles area. Thirty-three of these teachers were observed during a class period of instruction.
Some of the information was analyzed quantitatively. Profiles of teachers who were strong and weak in critical-thinking instruction were reported.
This study was a partial replication of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing Study done by Paul, Elder, and Bartell (1997). The results of this study appear consistent with the results of that study. A large percentage of teachers do not articulate a clear understanding of what constitutes critical-thinking instruction. They have little vocabulary to talk about standards of critical thinking, what critical thinking looks like when it is done correctly, how they would reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking, or what specific critical thinking skills they would like their students to develop.
This study’s observation component yielded examples of exemplary practice in critical thinking in high school instruction. Students in honors classes are better served by critical-thinking instruction than those in lower achievement levels. Most teachers who demonstrated exemplary practice in critical thinking did not learn how to do it in their teacher preparation programs.
The major implications of the dissertation are the following:
1). All teachers need to be educated in the philosophy, vocabulary, standards, intellectual traits, skills, and processes of critical thinking in their preservice and inservice education.
2). A concerted effort needs to be made to assure that all students, regardless of achievement level, be given the opportunity to learn to think critically.
3) Critical thinking should become an organizing core for other school reforms.
4) Textbooks need more critical thinking language and open-ended questions so as to encourage independent cognitive development and reasoning skills in students.
To read the full study, click here