Critical Thinking: Becoming a Lost Art?

Is critical thinking becoming a lost art?  I teach classes for a local college and I often teach dual-credit classes, which means I work with high school seniors (sometimes juniors) who are getting ahead with their college goals, as well as traditional on-campus students.  Over the years, I have seen lots of things change in education and while change can be a very good thing and is necessary for growth, sometimes the changes are a bit disconcerting.

One thing that sometimes concerns me is how many students appear to lack good critical thinking skills.  I have excellent students and I really enjoy teaching and what makes it even more fun is when I can get a class to really get involved in a discussion on whatever topic we are discussing. (I teach psychology and sociology.)  In the past few years, there has a been a trend of less and less of these good exchanges with my students.  They are more interested in taking their notes and letting me tell them what they need to know.  When I ask them for opinions, I am often met with a great deal of resistance.  I am staring at a sea of faces who are staring back at me!  And when I read their writing assignments, I am noticing more and more simply stating back what I said in class or what is in the text, rather than giving me a sense of what they think, agree with or disagree with and why.  I sometimes don’t know if they understand the material or just have good memories.

Now, the reason that this troubles me is because good critical thinking skills are foundation for good problem-solving skills.  Often in life, and in our careers, we will be faced with something that is going to require us to come up with a solution or a new way to manage something.  We can’t just rely on our ability to remember what someone told us to do in the past because this may be a situation they didn’t experience.  Remember, old solutions may not work for new problems.  We must be able to use our own knowledge and thinking skills to create a solution for ourselves.  By the way, if we don’t encourage people to think for themselves, then who is going to do the thinking for them?

I am hoping that parents and educators aren’t falling into just doing what’s easiest.  It takes some time, patience and skill to encourage young people to think and do for themselves, but it is a vital skill to have in life and we need to make sure that we are fostering critical thinking as young people are growing up.  Often in life, it’s more than just memorizing the right answer because life isn’t that black and white.  I had someone say to me the other day, “I need to learn to add more gray into my thinking instead of always looking for the ‘right’ answer.”  I applauded that person for showing good maturity and understanding.  They recognized it isn’t always just A or B, sometimes it’s more complex than that.

What do you think?  Do you feel that you are a good critical thinker?  Can you see the value in critical thinking skills?  Just some things to think about.

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