What is critical thinking? Critical thinking has been called the “skill to search for truth.” At its core, critical thinking is when we independently analyze and evaluate information as a guide for our beliefs and actions.
Often the information we are using for analysis is collected from, or created by, our observations, experiences, reflections, and reasonings (2). With this in mind, it’s key that we be active when collecting informational sources. A passive approach, would be only observing the sources that naturally surround us. This approach guarantees biased analysis. By comparison, taking an actively seeking information from a variety of sources, perspectives and methodologies gives us the opportunity to counter act inherent bias.
Linda Elder argues that critical thinkers are “keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked” (1). When collecting observational data, we should be keenly aware of our own biases, and read broadly so that our analysis encompasses all sides of each issue. It's important to assess for epistemological gaps and then seek out sources that fill those gaps. It’s also important to consider the historical and cultural context of each issue.
Finally, make a decision or don’t. The world is only black and white if you choose for it to be. Nuance is sexy ;).
Going forward, here is a "Back to Basics" critical thinking cheat sheet:
- Read broadly and look at each issue from all sides.
- Dissect logic of each side’s argument.
- Pay attention to the historical and cultural context of the issue.
A side note on sources: Ask who or what is providing that information and why? The ICAT (International Center for the Assessment of Higher Order Thinking) recommends checking each source for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, logic, and fairness (2).
When in doubt, use the Newsroom method (3).
In a fictional news room, an idealistic news team decides to reinvent the nightly news. Instead of choosing news stories for their ability to attract viewers, they use these 3 rules to govern their storytelling process: 1. Is this information we need in the voting booth? 2. Is this the best possible form of the argument? and 3. Is this story in historical context?
- Linda Elder, September 2007, http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-where-to-begin/796
- The Newsroom, episode "News Night 2.0" written by Aaron Sorkin, HBO Entertainment.