Is it possible to teach critical thinking

Critical thinking as an educational task

KD has a lot to do with emotional evaluations, such as: B. attitudes towards fellow human beings, towards oneself and towards the problems one is dealing with. It depends on how important it is to do justice to others, to solve problems successfully and whether it is worthwhile to carefully plan your own future. When considering the future, a lot depends on whether one looks ahead with confidence in its possibilities and experiences them as fundamentally shapeable (Brookfield, 1987, p. 5).

In order to do justice to others, one not only needs goodwill, but also cognitive-emotional effort. This is why Ennis (1985, quoted by Thayer-Bacon, 1993, p. 326) names not only purely cognitive actions (such as taking the entire situation into account and striving for as much precision as the subject allows) as demands on KD, but also sensitivity for the feelings, for the level of knowledge and the mental agility of others. Part of KD (Thayer-Bacon, 1993, 324f) is to be open to what others have to say, to be open, to hear the voice of others more fully and fairly.

KD is also related to feelings in other ways. Its results can arouse fear, resistance and resentment when we discover that we are about to question values, ideas and behavior that we have previously accepted. But we can also feel intense feelings of success when we notice that we are mentally getting things under control. We experience joy, relief, and serenity when we set out to new ways of seeing our personal world, work, or the future.

Critical Thinking - Intuition and Creativity

KD is not about the opposite of that creativity (Gilhooly, 1982, pp. 123-149; Maier & Janzen, 1970, p. 101; Perkins, 1990) and intuition (Langer, 1991, pp. 132-136; Moss, 1992, pp. 159f). Both of these require careful and thorough thinking if they are to be successful (Halpern, 1998, p. 452).

What is experienced as an emotional, sometimes surprising new insight or creative problem solving, regularly has a basis in extensive preoccupation with the topic, in the persistent search for alternatives. But above all: the results of an intuitive synopsis and creative new combinations can only prove useful if they are based on correct assumptions. That makes sense. Conceptual constructions based on wrong premises can at best be a chance hit. The way to select correct assumptions from the abundance of what can be assumed and what is asserted, however, is KD.

Effects of critical thinking

Critical thinking and quality of life

KD can help to recognize self-delusions and to look more realistically at one's own beliefs, desires and hopes, but also fears and worries (Whisner, 1993, p. 309). That would make a significant contribution to living one's own everyday life more satisfactorily and, above all, to taking into account one's own needs and possibilities more appropriately when making decisions that affect one's own future and not starting from common ideas of what people, what women on the one hand and what men are on the other make happy and what is possible or not possible for them. Such ideas are sometimes useful common sense, but often they consist of foolish prejudices and, most importantly, are never tailored to specific individuals.

The own Goals in life to examine critically with the question of what life would likely look like if they had been achieved and whether that would really be what would make one personally satisfied and happy in the long run, many decisions could lead to disappointing results, prevent. - Also the ways The goals deserve careful, critical examination of whether they really promise success and what side effects are to be expected. Halpern (1998, p. 450) is certainly right when she says that critically thinking people achieve more goals in life than those who think uncritically. And, I add, you will be more satisfied with the goals you have achieved.

Petri (1998, p. 17) goes into detail by stating: In the personal sphere, KD could in some respects contribute to personally and socially more satisfactory decisions, plans, ways of thinking and acting. It could, for example, fulfill essential functions in connection with dealing with internal and interpersonal conflicts - the meaningful design of life with regard to family, work, leisure time, social contacts, use of financial means - the preservation of physical and mental health.

Critical thinking and humanity

Because KD is incompatible with prejudice, with the rash assumption of derogatory judgments about other people and with reliance on rumors, it therefore plugs frequent sources of unjust, humiliating treatment of others. - KD is also incompatible with ill-founded justifications for actions whose inhumanity we suspect but do not want to admit. In the psychology of inhuman action, conscience-calming tactics play an inglorious role. They assume uncritical, superficial thinking.

“Human failure in dictatorial socialism” is the subject of a book by Fritze (1998). After his research, the author comes to the conclusion (p. 81): “From our point of view, perpetrators-with-a-good-conscience resorted to wrong opinions or incomplete knowledge, made mistakes, drew conclusions in an unauthorized manner or mistakenly believed that there were justifications Circumstances for their actions. "

But even in normal life circumstances we do injustice to others, offend them or trust them too little because we have not critically examined assumptions about them - for example because we rely on first impressions or because we think we know someone well, or because we rely too much on the opinions of others ..

Critical thinking and the world of work

Klemp & McClelland (1986, p. 41) found empirically that successful managers differed from less successful ones primarily through KD, e.g. in that they tried to get more information to clarify situations and tried to assess the trustworthiness of the information.

But you don't have to be in a managerial position to benefit professionally from KD. In all professions there are routines, some of which have lost their justification if there is too much confidence in one's own experiences. Questions suggested by KD are not asked often enough. Examples of such questions are: How reliable are the indicators from which I / we have inferred about processes that are not directly observable, such as the thoughts, feelings and intentions of others? How large and how representative are the samples of experiences from which conclusions were drawn?

Whenever problems have to be solved by several employees together, there are typical discussion processes that are incompatible with KD and make good problem solutions more difficult: the problems are not sufficiently specified or predictions are made in the discussion, the reasons for which are not asked carefully enough . The question of what speaks for and what against assumptions and assessments is too seldom asked. Discussions are also endangered by what has been socio-psychologically investigated as “groupthink” (Park, 1990). Some of the participants get the impression that a certain opinion has already prevailed as a consensus of the group. Group members who doubt that this view is correct fail to ask critical questions. This creates a deceptive correspondence that prevents further thinking and discussion.

Critical thinking and politics

The further development of a democratic state is largely determined by how many citizens and how often make KD the basis of their participation. The Weimar Republic failed not least because many Germans, driven by economic hardship, fear of social decline and the longing for a Germany that should be completely different, but also ready to be led by “strong men”, are uncritical believed the slogans of the extreme parties, especially those of the National Socialists.

Brookfield (1987, p. 41f) has pointed out that a lack of KD can encourage us to regard it as normal and natural when people are deprived of economic and educational opportunities because of their skin color, or that we see massive differences in prosperity between social classes and accept ethnic groups as inevitable.

Critical thinking and lifelong learning

The demands of the labor market and the prerequisites for political participation make it necessary for many, if possible all, people to revise old knowledge and gain new knowledge throughout their lives. Lifelong learning is also required for maintaining physical and mental health. Living healthily has different requirements in every age. To lead a fulfilled life independently and self-confidently into old age presupposes that people do not stand still mentally.

But what is offered to people of all ages as useful knowledge for work, political participation and private life is very different in its quality. Political assumptions and evaluations diverge extraordinarily, partly for good reasons, but partly they are seductive. Vocational training offers have very different benefits. This is especially true for everything that is advertised as healthy and preventive and life enriching. Critical, well-informed selection is necessary, i.e. KD.

Not only the selection of offers requires KD. The processing of the learning material and the clever application of new knowledge, new skills and new life techniques are also more successful when KD comes into play.

Paths to Critical Thinking: Opportunities of Teaching

Basically, it should be noted that thinking and judgment strategies, as Eckerle (1983, p. 93 and 1987, p. 146-156) justified, can build on existing thinking habits, but they are not acquired when dealing with content-related knowledge . A systematic elaboration is necessary.

Anderson recognized this early on (1942, p. VII) and stated it: There is no reason to hope that significant KD skills will be acquired as side effects in lessons that have other goals, e.g. B. imparting mathematical or scientific knowledge.

But that does not mean that a subject should be taught KD (Petri, 1998, p. 100). One is crucial Attention drawingthat can be aimed at for many teaching topics.

How this can be done will be made clear by examples, especially of questions that can be discussed in class.

American authors report on diversions of attention with the aim of encouraging KD and practicing it in teaching in elementary schools, in secondary schools, at universities and in adult education. This is even successfully possible in pre-school education and in teaching behavioral disorders (O’Donnell, 1992, p. 300).

Murray (1997) reports experiences in the 5th, 6th and 7th grade. Subjects and forms of teaching were traditional, but a new element was that whenever there was a problem, teachers kept encouraging them to define the problems precisely, to test assumptions and to take seriously the views of other students and teachers.

Halpern (1998, pp. 451-455) tested her four-part model for promoting KD primarily with secondary school and university students. The four parts are: the attitude component (ethics of thinking and readiness for mental exertion), the competence component, metacognitive monitoring and exercises with different contents to promote the transfer.

Pupils and students can be guided by questions like these:

  • How much time and effort is the problem in question worth?
  • What do we already know about the problem?
  • What additional information do we need?
  • Which information is particularly important? Which are less important?
  • What are the arguments in favor of the information being correct?
  • Find two solutions to the problem! (This should encourage a more creative approach)
  • What are two reasons that support the solution and two that do not? (To make black and white thinking difficult)

Murray (1995) recommends that teachers and university teachers should report and discuss in more detail the logic, experiences, data and arguments underlying the content they are teaching, rather than presenting the content primarily as memorable knowledge.

Underwood & Wald (1995, pp. 17-20) report on their “conference method” as a way of promoting KD. The extent to which they disappoint students' expectations is illustrated by the story of one of the authors: My early experiences as a teacher reminded me of visits to the zoo in my childhood. In the zoo you could cross a large pond on a bridge. When someone stepped on the bridge, hundreds of carp came to the surface and opened their mouths, - Similarly, even intelligent students want to be (mentally) fed, want to be told what is right and what they can believe in. Teachers need ingenuity to motivate students to learn more actively and do KD. - In the conference method, the teachers give the students texts that challenge them mentally and take on the role of sources of information as soon as the students formulate problems and theses and start discussing them with one another. Conference teachers do not behave passively, but steer discussions by asking strategic questions and helping students take on each other's ideas. - The prerequisite is that the students read the assigned texts carefully and deal with them. You can be encouraged to do this by being asked to formulate a question in writing about each text.

The conference method also means that students learn to respectfully express differences of opinion. You should be encouraged to use counterarguments such as “I interpreted it differently” or “It could also be that ...” or “How can that be reconciled with the points x, y and z?” - Pitfalls are also to be expected become. Long periods of silence often indicate serious problems. In the simplest case, the texts have not been read carefully. The conference leaders may also have asked too difficult a question at the beginning. Students are reluctant to tackle complicated issues when they are uncomfortable with the group and the group is not yet in a buzz. Silence can also result from students perceiving a hostile atmosphere.


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