Who’s Teaching Critical Thinking?

critical thinking

In the past, we’ve published articles about the debt crisis in higher education. But student debt is not the only shortfalling of the current traditional higher education system. Recently, as in the last couple of decades, college has been losing its emphasis on critical thinking and engaging with diverse ideas.

Of course, demographic diversity is valued on many traditional college campuses. But diversity in thought isn’t valued as much at many institutions.

Aristotle declared that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” He meant that wisdom and critical thinking enable us to consider different ideas and viewpoints, without accepting them as truth. We don’t need to hide from diverse ideas, we can engage them without compromising our own convictions.

Intellectual Safe Spaces

Colleges and universities were once the breeding ground for new and diverse ideas. They were places where people were encouraged to entertain many thoughts and then filter them down to find what was true. 

There was a process to critically think through issues and arrive at a conclusion about them. And colleges, in large part, existed to teach that process. 

Nowadays, though, colleges have strayed from this purpose and have focused on the destination more than the process. This is what we would call an “answers-based” model. It’s far more concerned with arriving at the correct answer as efficiently as possible and staying there for as long as possible.

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Later this week, I plan to hike Old Rag with some friends. Old Rag is a mountain in Virginia and it’s a challenging hike. If I took a helicopter to the summit I’d get there a lot faster and without so much sweat and hard work. But I would also miss the challenge of the process. The trail up the mountain is hard but that’s why we hike: to exercise and challenge ourselves.

Traditional higher education in today’s culture is a lot like taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain. Colleges are most concerned with teaching the correct answers, not encouraging critical thinking in their students. They withhold the challenge of critical thinking by serving up approved answers on a plate.

The Worthwhile Path

Critical thinking is, in some ways, far harder than simply memorizing answers for a test. But like many hard things, it’s worthwhile. It will serve us far longer than memorized test answers. When we teach critical thinking and give students an opportunity to exercise it, we help prepare them for the real world’s problems and challenges which rarely come with an answer guide. Traditional higher education may have dropped the ball when it comes to critical thinking, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope.

Critical thinking isn’t necessarily something we learn in a classroom. It’s something we learn in the context of real life situations. That’s why project-based education is a great place to start when developing critical thinking in your student.

You can download a FREE copy of Unbound’s new eBook “The Homeschooler’s Guide to Project-Based Education” to learn more about how doing projects in high school can help build critical thinking and other skills for students. Click here to get your FREE copy.

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