Requirements for Critical Thinkers
Critical thinking grows in an emotionally stable, supportive environment, where real problems are explored by teacher and student together.
When I hear “critical thinking,” I think of criticism—getting judged, graded, or challenged.
It took some time, but one day I heard the term “critical” differently:
- Critical, as in “crucial”
- Critical, as in “essential”
- Critical, as in the “fulcrum” of the issue
Critical thinking is about exploring all the essential elements of a topic—identifying what’s at stake, what’s crucial to take into account. Critical thinking means that the issue merits discussion and exploration.
What research demonstrates is that we lose our powers to think critically when we are under duress. If we feel pressure, if our community threatens us with rejection, if we’re being graded, or someone is yelling, we can’t think critically.
We pick a side that ushers us into safety. Have you ever been in a fight with someone you love only to capitulate to stop the verbal assault? That’s not critical thinking. That’s self-protection.
It’s also not critical thinking if we spend energy agreeing with ourselves—excluding information that doesn’t align with our well-settled ideas and beliefs. The concept is not up for review or investigation. Rather, information, facts, and data are rounded up to reinforce the belief.
I’m not here to criticize the role of apologetics (you conduct an apologetic every time you explain to a child why they need to eat vegetables and take baths against their will).
Rather, to be a critical thinker requires a couple of things:
- A supportive, emotionally safe environment
- A partner who is an ally, not an antagonist
And this is why I loved writing Raising Critical Thinkers. I think it will help all of us.