Ability to think critically -1-Running head: ABILITY TO THINK CRITICALLY Ability to Think Critically Michael N. Phan University of Phoenix School of Advance Studies
Ability to think critically -2- Ability to Think Critically In attempting to define critical thinking, I have learned that no agreement exists on asingle definition of the term. The term critical thinking was first coin by the Americanphilosopher John Dewey (1910; 1933) under the label of “reflective thinking.” He describedreflective thinking as “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief of supposedform of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions towhich it tends” (Fields, 2006; Dewey, 1933, p. 9). According to Dewey, critical or reflectivethinking was a direct response to a suggested resolution of a specifically occasionedperplexity. 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 fewdecades where though the basic idea remained the same, it branched into more refineddefinitions of the term. According to Brown and Gillis (1999), stated “Reflective thinking isseen as closely related to experience by many authors” (p. 172). They stated that “the key tolearning 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 heor she “thinks, feels, does, and concludes at the time and immediately after” (p. 18). Atkins
Ability to think critically -3-and Murphy (1993), stated that immense of talent is required for reflective thinking, whichself-awareness, critical examination, synthesis, and assessment. They see “self-awareness asindividual’s ability to analyze honestly their interactions and with experiences, particularlyfeelings 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 inwhich he calls “Critical Thinking: The Correct Assessing of Statements.” This definition tendsto exclude creative thinking from critical thinking. In 1987, a much broader definition thatEnnis’ 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 laterdefinitions presented by researchers lean more towards employing Ennis’ broader definitiveversion 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, dispositionsor attitudes form the more affective aspect (Jones, Merritt, & Palmer, 1999). In a laterdefinition, Elder and Paul (1996) described “critical thinking as self-improvement in thinkingthrough standards that assess thinking.” They further described critical thinking as “the art oftaking 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 therealm of desirable cognitive development, there was seen a gradual consensus betweenparents, educators, and administrators that to enhance the aptitude to reason analytically hadto be one of the prime goals of education (Watkins, 2003). Occasionally, writers of
Ability to think critically -4-government reports and academic studies to lament the inability of countless student to thinkcritically and as a means of resolving the issue and hence current curriculum developmentmaterial for “all levels and across the curriculum” are urbanized with the prime aim ofdeveloping critical thinking skills (Shu & Yang Wen Chaun, 2004; Unrae, 1997; Wolf, 1997). In reviewing these definitions of critical thinking, however, is important to considerthat the level of cognitive development, logic and emotionality must also play a key role inassessing the critical thinking skills of a person. Although the person whom is moreacademically challenged such as those in graduate educational programs have more refinedcritical thinking skills on a broader scale, it should not imply that the less academicallychallenged 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 thinkcritically is a matter of degree. No one is without any critical skills, and no one has them sofully that there are no areas in his or her life and thought in which uncritical though isdominant.” By keeping this thought in mind, it would not be wrong to say that the difference inthe definition of critical thinking have evolved not only according to research in cognitivedevelopment over the passage of time, but also according to the refinement in the criticalthinking process of the theorists, who have presented newer and more modern versions of thedefinition of critical thinking. An example of this definition was presented in 1998 byMichael Scriven and Richard Paul, which hints at a sleeker and more intrinsicallyintellectualized mode of thinking where they call critical thinking, “the intellectuallydisciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing,synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation,
Ability to think critically -5-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 higherlevel of self-awareness (Scriven & Paul, 1998). The modern day definitions of critical thinking supported by the majority of scholarsconsidered that is relating to issues that “rest uneasily between a normative core and anempirical surround.” The idea that critical thinking is related to the level of personal logicand emotional and intellectual developing is additionally asserted when he or she said that tothink critically or well is not only to satisfy norms, tacit or expressed, but also to do as peopledo. Dominic Massaro in her review of Weinstein’s book “Re-Thinking Reason: NewPerspectives in Critical Thinking” writes, “Critical thinking, to ape a classic philosophicaldiscussion, is a term of achievement.” To think critically is to have fulfilled to some extent orother the demands made upon thinkers as exemplified by human practices—practices thathave 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 moderneducational reform where it advocates the incorporation of the sound practices of reasoninginto the school curriculum in order to foster, in the words of Harvey Seigel, “students’ abilityto be appropriately moved by reason” (Seigel, 1999). Ennis’ definition can also be appliedon 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 -6-of the norms and functional thinking along with an understanding of how these norms can beinculcated 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 forlaying stress on the need for detachment. Belenky et al, finds it inappropriate where “theseparate knower holds herself aloof from the subject she is trying to analyze,” (p. 36) andmore in favor of “connected conversations…real talk” whereas “each person serves as amidwife to each other’s thoughts, drawing out each other’s ideas, entering into them, evenarguing 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 “generalthinking skills” especially those taught through informal logic techniques as “literal nonsensesince thinking is always about some particular thing or subject” (p. 102). According to Connie Missimer, the current standard approach to critical thinking islimiting by its view of “critical thinking as a reasoned judgment by an individual at any givenmoment” (p. 119) because she believes that this misrepresents the role of the individualthought. Laura Duhan Kaplan believes that the current critical thinking textbooks areineffective as they tend to “teach conformity rather than political autonomy” (p. 204) andconsiders them to be plagued by a limited sense of available choices. Hence, a wide range ofdiffering definitions of critical thinking which have risen when the ability to think criticallystarted being considered in conjunction with mental logic, emotions and social background ofthe individual (Weinstein 1997). Brown and Gillis (1999), surmise this effect of intelligence on critical thinking veryaptly in “Using Reflective Thinking to Develop Personal Professional Philosophies” where
Ability to think critically -7-they state that reflective thinking is an important part of developing the complexunderstanding of ones’ personal professional philosophy. The individuals who lack the abilityto reflect or employ a previously articulated philosophy as guidelines for critical thought areliable to be forced into reactive and haphazard patterns of behavior when they are faced withprofessional dilemmas. They write, many beliefs and biases of students need to be exposedand assumptions challenged on the way to developing a philosophy. Research shows that priorbeliefs 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 forreflective 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 thinkcan be assessed much better if one applies these factors on one’s own critical thinkingabilities. For instance, if faced with a question that requires a well thought and solid personalopinion, he or she is better to read a little on the subject before his or her can assess thesituation and offer his or her own point of views. In this situation reading about the subjectbefore hand would be the cognitive ability, logic and emotionality while the personal opinionthat 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 criticalviewpoint. To surmise, though the ability to think critically is inherent all people, it is theapplication of his or her individual ability, logic and emotionality on this cognitive processesthat affects the depth of his or her critical thinking.
Ability to think critically -8- ReferencesBlenky, M., Clinchy, B., Goldberger, N., & Tarule, J. (1986). Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice and mind (pp. 96-102). New York: Basic Books. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from http://uploads.pacifica.edu/gems/watkins/DialogueDevelopmentLiberatio.pdfBrown, S. C., & Gillis, M. A. (1999, April). Using Reflective Thinking to Develop Personal Professional Philosophies. Journal of Nursing Education, 38(4), 171-175. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from ProQuest database.Dewey, J. (1910). How we think (p. 224). New York: Health & Co. Retrieved Sept. 22, 2008, from http://www.brocku.ca/MeadProject/Dewey/Dewey_1910a/Dewey_1910_toc.htmlElder, L., & Paul, R. (2004, Spring). Critical thinking…and the art of close reading (part II). Journal of Developmental Education, 29(3), 36-37. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_ga3965/is_200004/ai_n8881235Ennis, R. H. (1962). A concept of critical thinking. Harvard Educational Review 32(1), 24-28. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from Premier Academic Research database.Ennis, R. H. (1985). A logical basis for measuring critical thinking skills. Educational Leadership, (43), 44-48. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from General OneFile database.Ennis, R. H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In R. Sternberg & J. Boykoff Barons (Eds.). Teaching thinking skills: Theory and practice (pp. 9-26). New York: W. H. Freeman. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from http://www.arches.uga.edu/~eglazer/EDIT6400.html
Ability to think critically -9-Ennis, R. H. (1989). Critical thinking and subject specificity: Clarification and needed research. Educational Researchers, 18(3). Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from General OneFile database.Fields, A. M. (2006, September). Ill-structured problems and the reference consultation: The librarian’s role in developing student expertise. Reference Services Review, 34(3), 405- 420. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from Emerald Group database.Gibson, C. (1995, Fall). Critical thinking: implications for instruction. (Library Literacy)(Column) RQ 35.n1, 27. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from Gale Power Search database.Grant, C. & Secada, W. (1990). Preparing teachers for diversity. In W. R. Dawson (Ed.), Handbook of research in teacher education (pp. 403-422). New York: Mcmillian.Hemming, H. E. (2000, Spring). Encouraging Critical Thinking: ‘But…What Does That Mean?’ McGill Journal of Education, 35(2), 173. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from ProQuest database.Jones, P., Merritt, J., & Palmer, C. (1999). Critical thinking and interdisciplinary in environmental higher education: The case for epistemological and values awareness. Journal of Geography in Higher Learning, 23(3), 349-357. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from ProQuest database.Kadir, M. Akshir. Ab. (2007). Critical Thinking: A family resemblance in conceptions. Education and Human Development, (1)(2), 1-11. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from http://www.scientificjournals.org/journals2007/articles/1252.pdf
Ability to think critically - 10 -Kaufman, D. (1996). Constructivist-based experiential learning in teacher education. Action in Teacher Education, 18(2), 40-50. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from Premier Academic Research database.Scriven, M., & Paul, R. (1998). Defining Critical Thinking. Journal of Development Education, pp. 34-35. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from http://helmet.stetson.edu/departments/library/infoliteracy.docSiegel, H. (1999, Spring). What (good) are thinking dispositions?. Educational Theory, 49(2), 207. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from ProQuest database.Shu, C., & Yang Wen Chaun, L. (2004, March). The relationship among creative, critical thinking and thinking styles in Taiwan high school student. Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 31. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from General OneFile database.Unrae, N. (1997). Thoughtful teachers, thoughtful learners: A guide to helping adolescents think critically. Scarborough, ON: Pippin Publishing.Watkins, M (2003). “Dialogue, development, and liberation.” In I. Josephs (Ed.) Dialogically in development. Westport, CT: Greenwood. Retrieved on September 22, 2008, from http://uploads.pacifica.edu/gems/watkins/DialogueDevelopmentLiberatio.pdfWeinstein, M. (1997, Summer). Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking. The American Journal of Psychology, 110(2), 285. Retrieved on Sept. 22, 2008, from ProQuest database.Wolf, J. (1997). The beanstalk and beyond: Developing critical thinking through fairy tales (pp. 74-76). Englewood, Colorado: Teacher Ideas Press.