Blog Post: Of Course Critical Thinking Can Be Taught

Gerald Nosich
Oct 01, 2021 • 60d ago
Of Course Critical Thinking Can Be Taught

{"ops":[{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"It always distresses me (and, I confess, also makes me angry) to read accounts that say critical thinking can’t be taught. I met a former provost from UCLA who said the same kind of thing. That even some cognitive scientists say so, makes it only that much worse."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"It's bizarre. People who make such claims write about critical thinking as if there's this block of a thing, “critical thinking,” that gets taught—or not. The question itself—“Can  critical thinking be taught?”—makes no sense. It's like asking if \"Understanding Science\" can be taught, and then concluding it can't because of the evidence that, after taking a class in one of the sciences, most students do not understand science."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"The proper question is: Can students be taught to think "},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a","italic":true},"insert":"more"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" critically? Can they be taught to think more critically than they do now?"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"And it's obvious and completely testable that they can. For example, a cognitive scientist who doubts whether critical thinking can actually be taught lists several aspects of critical thinking. The first one he lists is that critical thinking includes seeing both sides of an issue.  "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"So here’s a test. Take students who have been explicitly taught to describe both sides of issues. (They are taught the importance of it; they are required to do so not just once but repeatedly; they receive feedback on how well they did; they are given grades or marks on how accurately and clearly they describe both sides; and so forth.) Here's the question then: Take students who have explicitly been taught to see both sides of an issue: Will they be better able to see both sides of an issue than students who haven't been so taught? An exam will give direct evidence."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"As a control group, take another group of students who have not been taught this at all. (They've taken a normal course in biology, say, or math, or cognitive science, or formal logic.)"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":"I have frequently tested this in my classes. In one section of a course I've taught a certain skill--identifying assumptions in an argument, for example--and in another section I have focused instead on other critical thinking skills. The results are straightforward: Students who are taught how to identify assumptions are spectacularly better at identifying assumptions than students who have not been taught how to identify assumptions. In general, teaching students how to do X makes them better at doing X than not teaching them how to do X."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#1a1a1a"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nIt is clear that critical thinking can be taught—not just individual skills but whole arrays of intellectual traits of mind as well. The problem is that most faculty do not have an explicit conception of critical thinking and therefore have little actual tools for fostering critical thinking.\n"}]}

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