Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity. But most of it is dormant; most is undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, in ballet, or in playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn. As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don’t do the work required for improvement.
Development in thinking requires a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker simply because one wills it. Changing one’s habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker require an extended period of development.
How, then, can we develop as critical thinkers? How can we help ourselves and our students to practice better thinking in everyday life?
First, we must understand that there are stages required for development as a critical thinker:
Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker (we are unaware of significant problems in our thinking)
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker (we become aware of problems in our thinking)
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker (we try to improve but without regular practice)
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker (we recognize the necessity of regular practice)
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker (we advance in accordance with our practice)
Stage Six: The Master Thinker (skilled & insightful thinking become second nature to us)
We develop through these stages if we:
1) accept the fact that there are serious problems in our thinking (accepting the challenge to our thinking) and
2) begin regular practice.
In this article, we will explain 9 strategies that any motivated person can use to develop as a thinker. As we explain the strategy, we will describe it as if we were talking directly to such a person. Further details to our descriptions may need to be added for those who know little about critical thinking. Here are the 9:
1. Use “Wasted” Time.
2. A Problem A Day.
3. Internalize Intellectual Standards.
4. Keep An Intellectual Journal.
5. Reshape Your Character.
6. Deal with Your Ego.
7. Redefine the Way You See Things.
8. Get in touch with your emotions.
9. Analyze group influences on your life.
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
If writing is clear thinking put to paper, then we must work on your ability to think clearly and critically. As with most things in life, critical thinking is a skill … something that you can learn and over which you can gain expertise.
Shosh, you may not remember, but when you were a three or four, you scared my staff (Ms. T and Mr. D) because of how smart you were. When they asked you questions, you’d answer clearly and methodically. You’d scare them with statements like, “There are five reasons why I like …. First, …. Second, …. Third, ….”
That’s critical thinking. It is clear, rational, and driven by evidence.
I hope you boys have continued to practice what I have taught and modeled. Be skeptical. Question assumptions and conventional wisdom. Based on what evidence does someone make an assertion? What was omitted in the analysis? Who said what? Why would he/she say it? What does he/she have to gain?
Be brutally honest in your analysis. You may have to soften the analysis when you deliver it to others, but be objective and clear minded when you do the analysis. When it comes to the delivery of the message, think critically about how best to deliver it to maximize the objective.
Good writing and critical thinking are not accidental. Practice. You, and others, will find value in those skills for the rest of your life.
Live well. As Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
All my love, always,