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Ability to Think Critically Michael N. Phan University of Phoenix School of Advance Studies
Ability to think critically Ability to Think Critically
In attempting to define critical thinking, I have learned that no agreement exists on a single definition of the term. The term critical thinking was first coin by the American philosopher John Dewey (1910; 1933) under the label of “reflective thinking.” He described reflective thinking as “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief of supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Fields, 2006; Dewey, 1933, p. 9). According to Dewey, critical or reflective thinking was a direct response to a suggested resolution of a specifically occasioned perplexity. Dewey reasoned that “ If the suggestion that occurs is at once accepted, we have uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection. To turn the thing over in mind, to reflect, means to hunt for additional evidence, for new data, that will develop the suggestion, and will either, as we say, bear it out or make obvious its absurdity and irrelevance— Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry ” (Dewey, 1910, p. 224). The definition presented by Dewey led to a development of his ideas over the next few decades where though the basic idea remained the same, it branched into more refined definitions of the term. According to Brown and Gillis (1999), stated “Reflective thinking is seen as closely related to experience by many authors” (p. 172). They stated that “the key to learning is not the experienced itself but the reflection related to experience.” Furthermore, Boud, Keogh, and Water (1985) “see reflection as the total response of the learner.” What he or she “thinks, feels, does, and concludes at the time and immediately after” (p. 18). Atkins
Ability to think critically and Murphy (1993), stated that immense of talent is required for reflective thinking, which
self-awareness, critical examination, synthesis, and assessment. They see “self-awareness as individual’s ability to analyze honestly their interactions and with experiences, particularly feelings and thoughts” (Brown & Gillis, 1999, p. 173; Boud et al., 1985; Atkins & Murphy, 1993). Again the development from Dewey, Brown and Gillis, Boud, Keogh, and Water, Atkins and Murphy’s definitions were the definition follow-up by Ennis in his 1962 article in which he calls “Critical Thinking: The Correct Assessing of Statements.” This definition tends to exclude creative thinking from critical thinking. In 1987, a much broader definition that Ennis’ provided replaced a previous narrow one that creative thinking is, “reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do” (p. 45). The later definitions presented by researchers lean more towards employing Ennis’ broader definitive version by which critical thinking is comprised of both skills and dispositions (Ennis, 1985; Kadir, 2007). Where skills or abilities are the cognitive aspect of critical thinking, dispositions or attitudes form the more affective aspect (Jones, Merritt, & Palmer, 1999). In a later definition, Elder and Paul (1996) described “critical thinking as self-improvement in thinking through standards that assess thinking.” They further described critical thinking as “the art of taking charge of your own mind” (Ennis, 1985; Kadir, 2007; Elder & Paul 1996; Jones et al., 1999). Watkins stated that as the definitions of critical thinking found their footing in the realm of desirable cognitive development, there was seen a gradual consensus between parents, educators, and administrators that to enhance the aptitude to reason analytically had to be one of the prime goals of education (Watkins, 2003). Occasionally, writers of
Ability to think critically
government reports and academic studies to lament the inability of countless student to think critically and as a means of resolving the issue and hence current curriculum development material for “all levels and across the curriculum” are urbanized with the prime aim of developing critical thinking skills (Shu & Yang Wen Chaun, 2004; Unrae, 1997; Wolf, 1997). In reviewing these definitions of critical thinking, however, is important to consider that the level of cognitive development, logic and emotionality must also play a key role in assessing the critical thinking skills of a person. Although the person whom is more academically challenged such as those in graduate educational programs have more refined critical thinking skills on a broader scale, it should not imply that the less academically challenged do not possess any critical thinking skills at all. For this reason Elder and Paul (2004) further extended their own definition, “it is important to understand that to think critically is a matter of degree. No one is without any critical skills, and no one has them so fully that there are no areas in his or her life and thought in which uncritical though is dominant.” By keeping this thought in mind, it would not be wrong to say that the difference in the definition of critical thinking have evolved not only according to research in cognitive development over the passage of time, but also according to the refinement in the critical thinking process of the theorists, who have presented newer and more modern versions of the definition of critical thinking. An example of this definition was presented in 1998 by Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, which hints at a sleeker and more intrinsically intellectualized mode of thinking where they call critical thinking, “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation,
Ability to think critically
experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (p. 34). This definition takes critical thinking to a level where concepts of logic, reasoning, analysis, problem solving, decision making and evaluation are formally applied to achieve a higher level of self-awareness (Scriven & Paul, 1998). The modern day definitions of critical thinking supported by the majority of scholars considered that is relating to issues that “rest uneasily between a normative core and an empirical surround.” The idea that critical thinking is related to the level of personal logic and emotional and intellectual developing is additionally asserted when he or she said that to think critically or well is not only to satisfy norms, tacit or expressed, but also to do as people do. Dominic Massaro in her review of Weinstein’s book “Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking” writes, “Critical thinking, to ape a classic philosophical discussion, is a term of achievement.” To think critically is to have fulfilled to some extent or other the demands made upon thinkers as exemplified by human practices—practices that have to some extent been codified and theorized about by both philosophers and psychologists (Weinstein, 1997). This thought is evident when critical thinking is seen as the movement behind modern educational reform where it advocates the incorporation of the sound practices of reasoning into the school curriculum in order to foster, in the words of Harvey Seigel, “students’ ability to be appropriately moved by reason” (Seigel, 1999). Ennis’ definition can also be applied on critical thinking within this specific context whereby he views critical thinking to be a “reasonable and reflective thinking that is fostered on what to believe or do” (Kadir, 2007). According to the specificities of this definition, critically thinking requires the identification
Ability to think critically
of the norms and functional thinking along with an understanding of how these norms can be inculcated and employed in practice (Weinstein, 1997). Other researchers in the field of critical thinking, such as Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986), of “Women’s Ways of Knowing” criticizes critical thinking for laying stress on the need for detachment. Belenky et al, finds it inappropriate where “the separate knower holds herself aloof from the subject she is trying to analyze,” (p. 36) and more in favor of “connected conversations…real talk” whereas “each person serves as a midwife to each other’s thoughts, drawing out each other’s ideas, entering into them, even arguing passionately, and building together a truth none could have constructed alone” (p. 41). John Peck is another example of a researcher who considers the attempt to teach “general thinking skills” especially those taught through informal logic techniques as “literal nonsense since thinking is always about some particular thing or subject” (p. 102). According to Connie Missimer, the current standard approach to critical thinking is limiting by its view of “critical thinking as a reasoned judgment by an individual at any given moment” (p. 119) because she believes that this misrepresents the role of the individual thought. Laura Duhan Kaplan believes that the current critical thinking textbooks are ineffective as they tend to “teach conformity rather than political autonomy” (p. 204) and considers them to be plagued by a limited sense of available choices. Hence, a wide range of differing definitions of critical thinking which have risen when the ability to think critically started being considered in conjunction with mental logic, emotions and social background of the individual (Weinstein 1997). Brown and Gillis (1999), surmise this effect of intelligence on critical thinking very aptly in “Using Reflective Thinking to Develop Personal Professional Philosophies” where
Ability to think critically they state that reflective thinking is an important part of developing the complex
understanding of ones’ personal professional philosophy. The individuals who lack the ability to reflect or employ a previously articulated philosophy as guidelines for critical thought are liable to be forced into reactive and haphazard patterns of behavior when they are faced with professional dilemmas. They write, many beliefs and biases of students need to be exposed and assumptions challenged on the way to developing a philosophy. Research shows that prior beliefs rarely are change by providing only factual information (Grant & Secada, 1990; Kaufman, 1996). The emotions of the students must be captured to open the way for reflective thinking, which in turn may lead to attitude change (Brown & Gillis, 1999; Grant & Secada, 1990; Kaufman, 1996). The effect of personal cognitive ability, logic and emotionality on the ability to think can be assessed much better if one applies these factors on one’s own critical thinking abilities. For instance, if faced with a question that requires a well thought and solid personal opinion, he or she is better to read a little on the subject before his or her can assess the situation and offer his or her own point of views. In this situation reading about the subject before hand would be the cognitive ability, logic and emotionality while the personal opinion that results from this background would be his or her critical thinking ability. In comparison, the person whom read on the subject, in other words, with a more advanced cognitive ability, will also be the ones who can think more in depth on the topic and offer a deeper critical viewpoint. To surmise, though the ability to think critically is inherent all people, it is the application of his or her individual ability, logic and emotionality on this cognitive processes that affects the depth of his or her critical thinking.
Ability to think critically References
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