04 October 2009

Critical thinking is Critical! aka Teaching Students how to Think

I had to do a little writing this weekend. Writing about literature research I had to do on a particular topic. I chose critical thinking. I like this part of the paper and thought I would share it. Critical thinking is the reason I teach physics: its always relevant to critical thinking.

Why should we teach critical thinking?  Critical thinking is not intuitive. (Schafersman, 1991).  People learn from an early age to respect authority. Almost every child learns that whatever its parents say is the “gospel truth”.  While this can be a good thing for learning to be a responsible citizen, it is of no use in education, at least not a good education. True learning comes by experience and observation, by actually doing something.  Learning without experience is simply dogma (Filson, 2009).  It seems like this is remarkably similar to the situation involving Galileo and the Catholic Church.  Galileo began to have some experiential learning and the Church was threatened by this learning.  It was indeed dangerous thought since it would eventually usurp much of the dogmatic power away from the Church.  Students who are not taught critical thought are no better than the Cardinals of Venice who were shown, via Galileo’s telescope, the moons of Jupiter, but refused to accept this as evidence of a heliocentric Solar System. Instead, they kept “believing” what their own propaganda had told them for over 1000 years: Earth is the center of the Universe and is held there by the “Hand of God”.

According to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2009), “Accomplished Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Science teachers engage students in active exploration to develop the mental operations and habits of mind that are essential to advancing strong content knowledge and scientific literacy.”   I think the “active exploration” they mention here is critical and scientific thought.  If students engage in this type of thought they will become better critical thinkers, while also deepening their science content knowledge.  Teachers must plan this student engagement and work towards enabling the transfer of these skills to other disciplines.

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