Critical Thinking: What It Is And Why It Counts

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By Peter Facione

Realizing the power of dominance structuring, one can only be more committed to the importance of education and critical thinking. We should do all that we can to inform ourselves fully and to reflect carefully on our choices before we make them, because we are, after all, human and we are as likely as the next person to believe that we are right and they are wrong once the dominance structure begins to be erected. Braking through that to fix bad decisions, which is possible, can be much harder than getting things right in the first place.

There are more heuristics than only those mentioned above. There is more to learn about dominance structuring as it occurs in groups as well as in individuals, and how to mitigate the problems which may arise by prematurely settling on a “good enough” option, or about how to craft educational programs or interventions which help people be more effective in their System 1 and System 2 thinking. There is much to learn about human thinking and how to optimize it in individuals of different ages; how to optimize the thinking of groups of peers and groups where organizational hierarchies influence interpersonal dynamics. And, happily, there is a lot we know today about human thinking and decision-making that we did not know a few years ago.

Which brings us to the final question, “Why is critical thinking of particular value?”

Let us start with you first. Why would it be of value to you to have the cognitive skills of interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and selfregulation?

Why would it be of value to you to learn to approach life and to approach specific concerns with the critical thinking dispositions listed above? Would you have greater success in your work? Would you get better grades?

Actually the answer to the grades question, scientifically speaking, is very possibly, Yes! A study of over 1100 college students shows that scores on a college level critical thinking skills test significantly correlated with college GPA.5 It has also been shown that critical thinking skills can be learned, which suggests that as one learns them one’s GPA might well improve. In further support of this hypothesis is the significant correlation between critical thinking and reading comprehension. Improvements in the one are paralleled by improvements in the other. Now if you can read better and think better, might you not do better in your classes, learn more, and get better grades. It is, to say the least, very plausible.

Learning, Critical Thinking, and Our Nation’s Future

“The future now belongs to societies that organize
themselves for learning…nations that want high
incomes and full employment must develop policies
that emphasize the acquisition of knowledge
and skills by everyone, not just a select

Ray Marshall & Marc Tucker, Thinking For A Living:
Education And The Wealth of Nations, Basic Books. New
York. 1992.

But what a limited benefit — better grades. Who really cares in the long run? Two years after college, five years out, what does GPA really mean? Right now college level technical and professional programs have a half-life of about four years, which means that the technical content is expanding so fast and changing so much that in about four years after graduation
your professional training will be in serious need of renewal. So, if the only thing a college is good for is to get the entry level training and the credential needed for some job, then college would be a time-limited value.

“Critical thinking is the process of purposeful,
selfregulatory judgment. This process reasoned consideration to evidence,
context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria.”

The APA Delphi Report,
Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus
for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction
1990 ERIC Doc. NO.: ED 315 423

Is that the whole story? A job is a good thing, but is that what a college education is all about, getting started in a good job? Maybe some cannot see its further value, but many do. A main purpose, if not the main purpose, of the collegiate experience, at either the two-year or the four-year level, is to achieve what people have called a “liberal education.” Not liberal in the sense of a smattering of this and that for no particular purpose except to fulfill the unit requirement. But liberal in the sense of “liberating.” And who is being liberated? You! Liberated from a kind of slavery. But from whom?

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