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Critical Thinking!! Why?!

By M. Abdessalami

"Critical thinking is a process of determining the authenticity, accuracy and worthiness of information or knowledge claims." - Beyer (1987)


         Several teachers want to describe their job in terms of the proverb which goes, "You can lead a horse to the river but you cannot make it drink"; meaning that they can guide the students to the very things they need for their studies but only “thirsty” students can take profit from it. Some light-hearted teachers prefer to put the proverb unequivocally. They quipped that, "You can lead students to college but you cannot make them think" that’s because thinking is somehow beyond main-stream teacher’s ability to teach because critical thinking is a complicated process that need skills and lots of practice. This is in no way upbeat. It is up to the students to learn how to question different subjects and ponder on them critically.

         However this doesn't mean that the teacher can do nothing to allure the students to think critically. It is true that "critical thinking may be hard, but it is certainly not impossible" (3.2). "Critical thinking is more of a lifetime journey than something picked up in a two-week module"(3.1.1) [1] Obviously, the matter of teaching critical thinking is a little hard unless the teacher starts teaching through critical thinking to allow the students to assimilate the process. Once the students as well as teachers are used to a certain level of communication based on reciprocal questioning and evaluating opinions, ideas and even facts or pseudo-facts to verify if they are valid or not; that is the beginning. Teachers are able to boost this sort of interaction by accepting and discussing students' proposals and ideas not imposing anything unless convincing and having strong arguments.

         The students of today are faced with an amalgamation of well put divergent ideas that all seem perfect and plausible until they are approached critically. With a little thinking they start to manifest their inconsistency, weaknesses and fallacies. Therefore, thinking critically is one of the necessary tools students must use to fully understand messages, pieces of information, arguments, discourses, and get aware of the nature and fabric of the other side of the coin. It is quite naive, nowadays, to take for granted everything you hear or see. They are, on a large scale, deceiving and no longer innocent. In every message there is a hidden intention that needs spotting and unveiling, then deal with it appropriately.

What is Critical Thinking?

         First off, thinking is connected to problem solving and it is either basic or creative. The basic thinkers know what they are looking for but they persistently search in one location looking for only one solution. This type of thinking is generally sequential: every step depends wholly on the previous one. The result is always correct when the steps of the process are correct. The view to any topic is usual taking things as they are.

         Creative thinking, on the other hand, is composite. The creative thinkers do not know what they are looking for until they find it. They search in various locations to get an assortment of results for the same topic. They are never stopped by uncertain findings because they can mend and rectify them to make sense. They scope is wider and their view to usual things is different. Creative thinkers have tendency to innovate and to be more global. They are at the same time logical, scientific, and compromising; in a word critical.

         Critical thinking is a little complicated process as it entails a wide range of skills. The most important of which are:

         This process allows the students who adopt critical thinking to identify logical fallacies in the arguments of others, and to avoid them in their own arguments. This approach is both necessary and supportive for a conscious and rational interaction with the ever-changing world around them.

         Fallacious reasoning represents a gloomy fog between them and knowing the truth and it needs dissipating. It is the inability to think critically that makes the students vulnerable to manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric that unfortunately are increasing in number.

Why critical thinking?

         There are several strong reasons why critical thinking should urgently be integrated in schools.

         This generation of students is under a huge information attack. The information flood that David Foster Wallace in his introduction to the 2007 Best American Essays anthology calls "total noise" is submerging and they need to "navigate it" otherwise they will drown. They are exposed to lots of ideas that are mostly mean and wicked or at least ambiguous. In order to protect themselves from these misleading ideas they need to harness themselves with critical thinking to know that accepting and rejecting an idea depends on the sort of thinking style they use in the first place. The internet for instance is full of ideas which have no clear source. Everybody can deliver information on the net but how can we make sure the things we read are valid, reliable and authentic? It is through critical thinking that we primarily can navigate the internet and use technology with the least damage.

         Based on the principle that there are no stupid questions, only stupid people, the students have to be trained to be smart enough to ask adequate “powerful questions” which lead to truth, thought the latter is most of the time relative. Once able to question any of the issues presented critically; the students will be able to validate or reject ideas and discover false arguments. Questioning, in this regard, also means wondering and reflecting.

         Thinking critically leads the students to be able to...

In brief, it leads them to

         When the students start rethinking their thinking style, they will deliberately evolve within the usual dimensions to suddenly feel like freeing oneself from the tight limits of the box to start thinking outside it; that is beyond the usual.

Q: Why is the boy sleeping?
A1: May be because he is tired or sick.

Q: Why is the boy sleeping?
A2. Because he is not awake

         Sometimes the answer depends on particular factors like the person who asks and the one who answers, it could also depend on the overall situation among other factors.

         This is not actually the ultimate goal from using critical thinking. For students especially, critical thinking is not primarily required only to unveil logical fallacies and protect themselves from manipulation and dissuasion. It is rather used to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make well-versed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. And this is the real challenge of "why and how" implementing the teaching of critical thinking at school.

1. Teaching Critical Thinking: Lessons from Cognitive Science by Tim van Gelder
2. Thought & Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking by Diane F. Halpern
3. Critical Reasoning: A Practical Introduction by Anne Thomson

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