Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 21, 2007

Critical questions about critical thinking

“Logic is the missing piece of the American educational system, the subject that informs every other subject.” ~ Logic and Philosophy Professor D. Q. McInerny in “Being Logical”

When I write about two of my favorite topics, critical thinking and logic, I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of a clear, concise definition of critical thinking. I finally found one: “… the careful, deliberate determination of whether we should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim, and the degree of confidence with which we accept or reject it.” (Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker in “Critical Thinking”)

Critical thinking is on my mind because last week I learned about the Foundation for Critical Thinking, which “conducts advanced research and disseminates information on critical thinking.”

I’m glad to know about others who are promoting critical thinking, because critical thinking – and, too often, the lack thereof – influences every part of our lives. A few examples:

• Civil liberties – Is it logical to diminish, as multiple Bush Administration actions have, the essence of America – our Constitution and the rights enshrined in it – based on fear of terrorism?

• Education – Is it logical to assume, as No Child Left Behind does, that high test scores demonstrate well-educated students instead of good test-taking skills? Or to partly base high school graduation, as California does, on a test that requires eighth-grade-level math skills, 10th-grade-level English skills and omits science and critical thinking skills? Or to pay teachers, as most public schools do, like factory workers instead of like professionals?

• City government – Is it logical to pay non-union top-tier city employees, as Gilroy does, 15 percent more than their highest-paid subordinates and 10 percent more than their peers’ average salaries without regard to individual job performance? Or to spend more than $100,000, as Morgan Hill did, on community conversations to discuss with less than 1 percent of residents ways to close a $1.5-million budget gap?

• Mortgage crisis – Is it logical, as many subprime lenders have, to give home loans to borrowers who can’t or won’t document the size and source of their incomes?

I could go on and on.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking is especially interested in educational reform: “The foundation advocates a concept of critical thinking that organizes instruction in every subject area at every educational level, around it, on it, and through it across the curriculum.”

Here’s an example of how it can work: The geometry class I took at my fundamentalist Christian high school included a unit on logic. One assignment required us to find “if-then” statements in the Bible. Critical thinking was ‘cross-pollinated’ with Bible study.

Of course, public schools cannot directly implement this example, but it does show that critical thinking can suffuse the entire curriculum. In my case, the critical thinking skills I learned in geometry and other classes led me to question the faith-based assertions I was taught at the same time.

Although it acknowledges an imperfect reality, it’s refreshing and encouraging to read this statement on the foundation’s web site: “As a rule, critical thinking is not presently being effectively taught at the high school, college and university level, and yet, it is possible to do so.”

But here’s the critical question: Do parents, teachers, administrators and business leaders care? Unless we demand that students learn critical thinking skills in our public schools, it won’t happen.

Here’s one chance for people in a position to reform education to do more than just gripe about the situation: The Foundation for Critical Thinking is hosting a three-day National Academy on Critical Thinking Testing and Assessment in Berkeley from Sept. 11-13.

According to a press release, during the event “Established tests will be compared with new tests and instruments under development by the Foundation for Critical Thinking.”

At least one educator grasps an important facet of critical thinking in our schools. Doug Wheeler, principal of Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa, recently told the Des Moines Register, “There’s this concept that rigor is more homework… Rigor is about thinking.”

If we want academic excellence for our students, if we want them to compete successfully in the global market, if we want future generations to make better decisions than this generation, we must teach our students how to think.

“Critical thinking, if somehow it became generalized in the world, would produce a new and different world; a world which increasingly is not only in our interest but is necessary to our survival.” ~ Dr. Richard Paul, Foundation for Critical Thinking



  1. […] still prefer a definition of critical thinking that I found a couple of years ago: “… the careful, deliberate determination of whether we should accept, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: