However it may sound at first hearing, “critical thinking” doesn’t mean “thinking negative things” any more than “graphic novel” means “R-rated literature.” If anything, critical thinking is “critical” in the other common sense of “vital.”
What Is Critical Thinking?
“Critical thinking (n.): the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment” (Oxford Languages Google dictionary). Effective critical thinking means exercising:
Objectivity: ability to consider every point—including points that grate on one’s personal comfort zone—without prejudice or undue emotion.
Analysis: ability to examine individual aspects—data, components, context, circumstances—and form a better understanding of the whole.
Evaluation: ability to reach objective conclusions from evidence obtained through analysis.
Judgment: ability to determine—and implement—a best course of action based on evaluation of objective analysis.
Why It Matters
Without critical thinking, there would be no progress: everyone would automatically continue doing things the way they’d always been done, and despising anyone who favored a different approach.
If that sounds uncomfortably like “normal” human society, that’s because critical thinking is a rare skill. It’s much easier to just take the crowd’s word for everything; and it’s also easy to fall into cheap substitutes for critical thinking.
- Many people think they’re being objective when they’re actually picking out facts (or almost-facts) that reinforce what they already believe (it is not objective to examine an alternate argument so one can determine how best to refute it).
- Many people who get as far as analysis wind up stuck there indefinitely, examining and re-examining a situation until there’s no time left to do anything about it.
- Conversely, many people rush through analysis and into evaluation before the facts are adequately understood—as in deciding that long-term car payments are a good investment because individual payments look small and the car ran smoothly on one test drive.
- Many others skip the first three steps completely and pass immediate judgment based on expectations, surface appearance, or “the way it’s always been done.”
Fortunately, it’s never too late to unlearn bad thinking habits and learn critical thinking—but as with most habits, starting early in life makes learning easier. It pays to encourage your children in this direction from a young age (and to learn along with them).
Tips for Getting Your Children on the Critical-Thinking Path
- Most youngsters are naturals at observing with unprejudiced eyes and seeing alternate courses of action. Try not to sabotage this by constantly telling them what they “should” believe: maybe they (and you) shouldn’t.
- Before you “correct” a child, take time to really listen to and consider their ideas.
- Do encourage them to explain the reasons behind their conclusions: it’s great critical-thinking practice. (And if their initial conclusions are wrong, they’re better off discovering this for themselves than having it dictated from above.)
- Ask questions rather than just answering them: “What do you think? What is that robin doing? How far away would you say the moon is? Why?”
- Involve the whole family in activities that encourage thinking and observing: puzzles, cooperative games, nature walks.
- Always show respect for your children, and encourage them to respect themselves. Self-confidence is a vital tool for effective critical thinking.
WE TEACH CRITICAL THINKING AT SHADY OAK
Shady Oak Primary emphasizes purposeful education, giving special attention to skills that prepare children to become effective adults and contributing members of society. Critical thinking is just one of the 6 Pillars that support our philosophy. Contact us to learn more about what our program offers families!
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!