USING CRITICAL THINKING IN PURSUIT OF POST-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION – CRITICAL THINKING SERIES – PART 2

USING CRITICAL THINKING WHEN DECIDING TO PURSUE POST-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION – CRITICAL THINKING SERIES – PART 2

STYRON’S INTRODUCTION

Seventeen-year-old youth must make several life-altering decisions, including pursuing some type of post-high school education. There is a wide range of choices and costs, including military, trades, community college, four-year university, post-graduate education, and more. Many young people regret wrong and costly decisions. I failed to use critical thinking in pursuit of my undergraduate degrees!

Part two of this series discusses the elements of thought or part of thinking.

I asked Dr. Leemann to write this Critical Thinking series to help my readers and those you love make better decisions.

CRITICAL THINKING SERIESJim Leemann, Ph.D.

Our lives are full of thinking, both conscious and subconscious but mostly subconscious.  In order to become more conscious of our thinking, we need to begin by taking our thinking apart and analyzing the parts.  This is the second in our series on Critical Thinking.

Drawing upon the decision to pursue a post-high school education, I will use this as the example in presenting this step in our Critical Thinking Series.

USING CRITICAL THINKING WHEN DECIDING TO PURSUE POST-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION – CRITICAL THINKING SERIES – PART 2

PART 2. WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF THOUGHT OR PART OF THINKING?

Over the past year, parents have been discussing post-high school education opportunities with their soon-to-be graduated children as to whether or not they should pursue a college education or set their sights on a community college or trades school.  Although these discussions can be somewhat tense and biased, the objective should be to explore various options, ask numerous questions, and hopefully rely on robust reasoning.  Since this decision can be one of the most expensive decisions parents and students will make, Critical Thinking can provide a framework that will lead to a thoroughly understood decision.

As Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder of the Center for Critical Thinking describe in their Critical Thinking – Learn the Tools the Best Thinkers Use “reasoning” occurs whenever our minds draw conclusions, and we make sense of things.  To exercise good reasoning, Drs. Paul and Elder suggest we ask ourselves these questions: What are we trying to decide?  What kinds of information do we need?  Do we have the information?  How can we ascertain if the information is accurate?  Analyzing the parts of our thinking allows us to surface the errors in our thinking and better locate which part(s) of our thinking may be problematic.

The Elements of Thought or Parts of Thinking include the following: Purpose, Concepts, Information, Inferences and Assumptions, Implications, and Points of View.  These parts do not operate in isolation but as a dynamic interactive system known as Critical Thinking.

Thinking Toward Some PURPOSE

Whenever we think, it typically is focused on pursuing a Purpose that will lead to achieving a goal, fulfilling a desire or need, or aligning with our values.  An important aspect of being a Critical Thinker is to be fully aware of the goals and desires that we want to accomplish – in other words the Purpose of our thinking.  Each of us creates our Purpose based on our points of view as we see ourselves in the world or in the circumstances we happen to be experiencing at the moment.

For those who have made the decision to attend college, ask yourself what is your Purpose for going to college?  Assuming the Purpose is to earn a degree, but have you taken the time to analyze what degree you want to seek and why you are seeking that degree.  When considering the Purpose, be sure to consider the REAL Purpose because your REAL Purpose and your altruistic Purpose may conflict.  Be honest with yourself and prepare yourself for the intellectual work necessary to earn your degree.

Taking Control of CONCEPTS   

All of us create Concepts to explain how we understand and experience the world we live in.  Mastering the ability to conceptualize how we mentally see things is integral to becoming a Critical Thinker.  In other words, we must avoid becoming trapped in thinking only in one way and be open to ideas and words that allow us to formulate and describe varyingConcepts of what we are thinking about.

Drs. Paul and Elder stress that in order to conceptualize things, events, situations, emotions, and abstract ideas, it is important to have command of the use of words.  Examples would include knowing the differences between needing and wanting, between having judgementand being judgmental, between having information and gaining knowledge, between being humble and being servile, between stubbornness and having the courage of your convictions.  Knowing the distinctions between these and many others will have a significant impact on how you interpret your daily experiences.

At this point, ask your child to write in their own words the difference between Education and Learning.  After this, look up the words in the dictionary and discuss whether their understanding of the difference of the words is close to how the dictionary defines these words.  

Assessing INFORMATION

A significant challenge today for Critical Thinkers is finding accurate Information that can be trusted.  We are unmercifully bombarded 24/7 with information to such an extent that it has become almost impossible to find trustworthy Information.  According to Drs. Paul and Elder, our minds are programmed to take in Information in three distinctive ways: 1) by memorizing facts or Inert Information, 2) by mislearning or partially learning Information or Activated Ignorance, and 3) by bringing significant ideas accurately into the mind or Activated Knowledge.

Inert Information

Inert Information involves memorizing information that we do not understand but think we do.  For example, during our schooling years we take in a lot of information through memorization; however, over time we forget what we memorized, or we cannot explain the concept(s) that formed the information memorized.

Activated Ignorance

Activated Ignorance involves taking in and actively using information that is false; however, we mistakenly think it is true.  As Drs. Paul and Elder note, “Acting on false ideas, illusions, and misconceptions often leads to needless waste, pain, and suffering.”  Wherever Activated Ignorance exists, it should be considered dangerous, and it should be questioned; especially, when acting on it could lead to significant injury, suffering, or death of others.

Activated Knowledge

Activated Knowledge involves taking in and actively using information that is not only true but when understood, leads to more and more knowledge.   Activated Knowledge is knowledge we acquire by contemplating the basic ideas and goals in a field and then apply this knowledge to our thoughts and experiences working in the field.  For Critical Thinkers, Activated Knowledge is the key to life-long learning.

With respect to Information, it is critically important that we develop a healthy skepticism about Information that serves the beliefs of a person or group.  Drs. Paul and Elder provide a series of key questions about information presented to us:

  • To what extent could I test the truth of this claim by personal experience?
  • To what extent is believing this consistent with what I know to be true or have justified confidence in?
  • How does the person who advances this claim support it?
  • Is there a definite system or procedure for assessing claims of this sort?
  • Does the acceptance of this information advance the vested interest of the person or group making the claim?
  • Does the person asserting this information seem uncomfortable with having it questioned?

Applying these questions to the decision to go to college will surface the kinds of Information that is necessary in order to make a robust and sound decision.

Distinguishing between INFERENCES and ASSUMPTIONS

As noted earlier, these elements of thought are continuingly interacting with each other to the point of influencing our decision outcomes.  Understanding the differences between Inferences and Assumptions is an important skill to be mastered as a Critical Thinker.

Inferences

An Inference is a conclusion drawn from known facts or evidence.  In other words, drawing a conclusion based on something being true in light of something else being true.  As Drs. Paul and Elder note, Inferences can be accurate or inaccurate, logical or illogical, justified or unjustified.

 Assumptions

An Assumption is something we accept as true without proof or, stated differently, taking something for granted.  Often it is something we have learned in the past and do not question.  Drs. Paul and Elder point out our Assumptions are an integral part of our belief system.  Our Assumptions or beliefs typically reside in our subconscious and as a Critical Thinker one must surface one’s subconscious beliefs to conscious awareness.

In addition to recognizing the differences between Inferences and Assumptions, it is important to understand and respect the various Inferences others bring to the situation at hand based on their different points of view which may differ from our personal point of view.  Drs. Paul and Elder indicate to improve our Critical Thinking skills, it is important to notice the Inferences we make, the Assumptions we are basing our Inferences on, and the point of view we have for the situation we are developing.  Therefore, when making the college decision keep track of the Inferences being made and the Assumptions being used to support your Inferences and what your point of view is regarding the decision to go to college. 

Thinking through Implications

In a given situation or statement, a Critical Thinker must be careful to distinguish between what the situation or statement Implies and what people may Infer from the situation or statement.  The key is to only Infer what is Implied in a situation or statement.

Drs. Paul and Elder suggest any situation produces three kinds of Implications – possible ones, probable ones, and necessary ones.  As you analyze a situation, statement, or decision ask yourself what the possible implications are, what are the probable implications, and what are the necessary implications.  For example, when engaging in the decision to go to college, think about what the possible outcomes of the decision are; of these possibilities, which ones probably will happen; and of these probable outcomes, which ones necessarilywill have a very high likelihood of happening.  Thinking through these three kinds of Implications allows for narrowing one’s focus on the outcome that will likely happen while avoiding the unnecessary expenditure of time and resources on outcomes that in all likelihood will not happen.

Thinking Across Points of View

Like it or not, we all have a Point of View that affects the way we think in every situation we encounter.  Not surprisingly, it is often difficult to articulate one’s personal Point of View, but it is even more difficult to express another’s Point of View.  Drs. Paul and Elder present the numerous sources for our Point of View: culture, religion, gender, race, discipline, profession, peer group, economic interests, emotional state, social role, age group, point in time, and club or organization to name a few.  Each of these sources presents a Point of View, which can arise from a combination of these sources.  Most of us are unaware of the extent our Point of View influences our biases toward a particular situation statement, or decision.  Often our Point of View makes us think that the way we see things is the way things ought to be seen.

Therefore, we should not only be aware of our Point of View or personal biases toward a particular topic, but we must exercise an openness to understanding and respecting our peers’ Points of Views in order to think within these other Points of Views leading to more dynamic thinking and decision-making.

For each of the above Point of View sources, ask your child to complete the following statement as it relates to the college(s) chosen: 

When I look at­­­_______________ 

I see from my Point of View ___________________________________ .

For a deeper understanding of Critical Thinking, I invite you to explore the following reference sources by Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD:

  • Concise Edition – Critical Thinking – Learn the Tools the Best Thinkers Use
  • The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking – Concepts and Tools.
  • The Foundation for Critical Thinking https://www.criticalthinking.org/
USING CRITICAL THINKING WHEN DECIDING TO PURSUE POST-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION – CRITICAL THINKING SERIES – PART 2

Bio: Jim Leemann, Ph.D.

Dr. Leemann has had a 45-year career that has included being in the forefront of the safety, occupational health, and environmental fields in both the private and public sector. In addition, for 22 of those years, Dr. Leemann was an adjunct assistant professor teaching a variety of environmental and public health courses in the country’s oldest school of public health. In addition to holding master’s degrees in industrial hygiene and environmental engineering, his doctorate is in systemic management, which he has used to apply systems thinking methods to address organizational management problems.  

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