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Critical thinking is not real

The fact is, not all misinformation being shared online is complete fiction. Sources such as snopes. Their focus is on debunking fabricated viral messages, distortions containing bits of truth and everything in between.

REAL OR FAKE? Why critical thinking is so critical.

It affects all of us from the moment we reach for our ipad, smartphone or other news delivery device, to when we power down for the day. Recent studies have shown that most high school and college students are unaware that not all links are created equally. You can start by taking a critical look at how you are marketing to students.


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And that starts with you. Who are you actually talking to?

Your audience continues to change and your marketing approach should, too. To stay real and relevant you need to make sure that the right people are fully engaged with what you are saying. That means keeping your research and insights about your prospective students current and accurate. Take time out to take a step back. Think about the message you intended to send and how it is actually coming across to your prospective and current students.

As an institution that helps prepare critically thinking world citizens, you need to take a critical look at how you communicate, starting with how your university treats news. Are you clear and consistent about the claims you make in your advertising? And they are not alone. These calls are not new.

Want to earn better grades?

In , A Nation At Risk , a report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, found that many year-olds did not possess the "'higher-order' intellectual skills" this country needed. It claimed that nearly 40 percent could not draw inferences from written material and only onefifth could write a persuasive essay. Following the release of A Nation At Risk , programs designed to teach students to think critically across the curriculum became extremely popular. By , most states had initiatives designed to encourage educators to teach critical thinking, and one of the most widely used programs, Tactics for Thinking, sold 70, teacher guides.

After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it's time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really. People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill.

The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought that is, domain knowledge. Thus, if you remind a student to "look at an issue from multiple perspectives" often enough, he will learn that he ought to do so, but if he doesn't know much about an issue, he can't think about it from multiple perspectives.

Can you teach it?

You can teach students maxims about how they ought to think, but without background knowledge and practice, they probably will not be able to implement the advice they memorize. Just as it makes no sense to try to teach factual content without giving students opportunities to practice using it, it also makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content. In this article, I will describe the nature of critical thinking, explain why it is so hard to do and to teach, and explore how students acquire a specific type of critical thinking: thinking scientifically.

Along the way, we'll see that critical thinking is not a set of skills that can be deployed at any time, in any context. It is a type of thought that even 3-year-olds can engage in — and even trained scientists can fail in. And it is very much dependent on domain knowledge and practice. Educators have long noted that school attendance and even academic success are no guarantee that a student will graduate an effective thinker in all situations. There is an odd tendency for rigorous thinking to cling to particular examples or types of problems.

And a student who has learned to thoughtfully discuss the causes of the American Revolution from both the British and American perspectives doesn't even think to question how the Germans viewed World War II. Why are students able to think critically in one situation, but not in another?

The brief answer is: Thought processes are intertwined with what is being thought about. Let's explore this in depth by looking at a particular kind of critical thinking that has been studied extensively: problem solving. Imagine a seventh-grade math class immersed in word problems. How is it that students will be able to answer one problem, but not the next, even though mathematically both word problems are the same, that is, they rely on the same mathematical knowledge? Typically, the students are focusing on the scenario that the word problem describes its surface structure instead of on the mathematics required to solve it its deep structure.

So even though students have been taught how to solve a particular type of word problem, when the teacher or textbook changes the scenario, students still struggle to apply the solution because they don't recognize that the problems are mathematically the same. To understand why the surface structure of a problem is so distracting and, as a result, why it's so hard to apply familiar solutions to problems that appear new, let's first consider how you understand what's being asked when you are given a problem.

Anything you hear or read is automatically interpreted in light of what you already know about similar subjects.

16 Characteristics of Critical Thinkers

For example, suppose you read these two sentences: "After years of pressure from the film and television industry, the President has filed a formal complaint with China over what U. These firms assert that the Chinese government sets stringent trade restrictions for U. For example, if you later read the word "Bush," it would not make you think of a small shrub, nor would you wonder whether it referred to the former President Bush, the rock band, or a term for rural hinterlands. If you read "piracy," you would not think of eye-patched swabbies shouting "shiver me timbers!

Thus, it significantly narrows the scope of possible interpretations of words, sentences, and ideas. The benefit is that comprehension proceeds faster and more smoothly; the cost is that the deep structure of a problem is harder to recognize. The narrowing of ideas that occurs while you read or listen means that you tend to focus on the surface structure, rather than on the underlying structure of the problem.

For example, in one experiment, 4 subjects saw a problem like this one:. Earlier in the experiment, subjects had read four problems along with detailed explanations of how to solve each one, ostensibly to rate them for the clarity of the writing. One of the four problems concerned the number of vegetables to buy for a garden, and it relied on the same type of solution necessary for the band problem-calculation of the least common multiple. Yet, few subjects — just 19 percent — saw that the band problem was similar and that they could use the garden problem solution. When a student reads a word problem, her mind interprets the problem in light of her prior knowledge, as happened when you read the two sentences about copyrights and China.

The difficulty is that the knowledge that seems relevant relates to the surface structure — in this problem, the reader dredges up knowledge about bands, high school, musicians, and so forth.

Critical thinking

The student is unlikely to read the problem and think of it in terms of its deep structure — using the least common multiple. The surface structure of the problem is overt, but the deep structure of the problem is not. Thus, people fail to use the first problem to help them solve the second: In their minds, the first was about vegetables in a garden and the second was about rows of band marchers. If knowledge of how to solve a problem never transferred to problems with new surface structures, schooling would be inefficient or even futile — but of course, such transfer does occur.

When and why is complex, 5 but two factors are especially relevant for educators: familiarity with a problem's deep structure and the knowledge that one should look for a deep structure.

We can only think critically about things about which we have knowledge.

I'll address each in turn. When one is very familiar with a problem's deep structure, knowledge about how to solve it transfers well. That familiarity can come from long-term, repeated experience with one problem, or with various manifestations of one type of problem i. After repeated exposure to either or both, the subject simply perceives the deep structure as part of the problem description.

Here's an example:. The solution is to carry some sand with you in the bag, and leave a trail as you go, so you can trace your path back when you're ready to leave the cave. The experimenters also gave subjects another puzzle based on a common Chinese folk tale, and the percentage of solvers from each culture reversed.