How critical thinking works

I wish to make the following claims:

A. The Moon orbits the Earth in roughly 28 days

B. Bill Clinton will primarily be remembered for his affair with Monica Lewinsky

C. Constructivist theories of education are basically Marxism dressed up as educational theory

D. The people who built the pyramids of Giza had a pretty good telephone system

E. Sturt Street is the main street in Ballarat

I predict that you found the first claim pretty easy to deal with. I expect my readers to be well educated so you will know or quickly recognise that this claim is true and move on to claim B.

You might find B more controversial. You may agree or disagree but you will see where I am coming from. You will probably try this claim out for size, see if it fits with your opinion and then decide whether to accept it or not.

You might struggle a little more with claim C. If you know my blog then you will be aware that I have criticised constructivist teaching approaches before. Marxism is not popular these days and so you may be tempted to write this off as rhetoric.

Claim D will strike you as manifestly false. You know that the pyramids were built by the ancient Egyptians, thousands of years before telephones were invented.

The final claim will probably leave you a little cold unless you know Ballarat. You can’t say if its true or not but it doesn’t sound extraordinary; it’s the kind of name that streets have.

In all of these cases, I predict that critical thinking will have taken place automatically as you compare the claim with the contents of your own long-term memory. I predict that in none of these cases will you have used a critical thinking strategy.

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10 Comments on “How critical thinking works”

  1. Geoff petty says:

    Well I would like to think that I would try to use a crit thinking strategy with B and C. Certainly if an essay was required rather than a yes-no answer.

  2. What’s a critical thinking “strategy” ? For C, I recalled (based on prior knowledge) that Vygotsky’s writings on social constructivism put forth the idea that there was a collective consensus of knowledge. While Vygotsky came up with good theories such as Zone of Proximal Development, he also couched his theories in the political environment of his time (i.e., during Stalin) in which the “collective good” was at the center of most endeavors. And so with this as context, the conduct of the classroom was to cultivate the “collective” truth. Other prior knowledge that comes to mind is George Orwell’s “1984” in which WInston Smith is told “If the party says 2 + 2 = 5, then it is true”.

  3. I fail to see your point here. The critical thinking occurs automatically because I have learnt strategies which have over much time and practice become automatic. To say it’s even automatic wouldn’t be entirely true because of my control over my own inner dialogue when questioning the feasibility of each statement; most of which I had to really consider… I had to question whether the Ancient Egyptians had cans and string or something similar!

    • gregashman says:

      I certainly do not buy the idea that most people need to be taught strategies in order to do this. It’s a bit like how kids don’t need to be taught how to control their breathing in order to talk.

      • dandare2050 says:

        But they do need to be taught how to control their breathing in order to sing or do public speaking.

  4. That’s really got me thinking.
    Explicit teaching? Perhaps not if they’re efficient learners. But what if they’re raised in a dogmatic environment where critical thought is discouraged? What if they’re born to a family that encourages Socratic dialogue at the dinner table?
    Perhaps the first child need only be introduced to the right environment to learn how to question what they see, hear and read. But then they may need to be scaffolded in unlearning their assumptions about ‘truth’.
    You would be far better at judging fallacies than I am, due to your training and extensive reading. I’ll bet you were taught at some stage how to identify many of them. If you learnt it by reading about them, I’d count that as being taught.
    At some point, you can learn without being ‘taught’ but those strategies need to be planted. Whether that can occur by being in the right environment, I don’t know.

  5. Shireen says:

    Children need to be exposed to examples of thinking critically, though. They need to see models of questioning text, ideas etc so that they not accept blindly what they read or hear and so they can offer their own opinions and be part of a dialogue. They should have the opportunity to do this in their educational journey in an open honest environment, I think. I can’t decide if this is a strategy or an approach.

  6. modcon86 says:

    What happens if a young student reads this post?

  7. […] upon our ability to compare new information with something that we already know (see discussion here). If we trust what we already know or have multiple representations of that knowledge then we will […]


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