The participants of the workshop, just like I, seemed to be a bit puzzled and confused hearing the question from the facilitator, Dr. Alan Klien. I was attending a workshop on Critical Thinking last year in BRAC CDM at Savar. Around 35/40 secondary school teachers from different parts of Bangladesh were attending the workshop. It was quite a lively one and at the same time very interesting. The question of Dr. Klien did put us in a kind of perplexity for some time being. But at the end of the workshop, everybody could understand how important critical thinking is in respect to fulfilling the demand of the day. At the same time there was a bitter realization in me that we are not at all helping our cadets in this regard.
What is critical thinking? There are a variety of answers to that question, but most experts agree that it includes the ability for a person to use his/her intelligence, knowledge and skills to question and carefully explore situations to arrive at thoughtful conclusions based on evidence and reason. A critical thinker is able to get past biases and view situations from different perspectives to ultimately improve his/her understanding of the world. Critical thinking is not necessarily "critical" and negative. In fact, it would be more appropriate to term it as evaluative thinking instead of good thinking. The result of evaluation can range from positive to negative, from acceptance to rejection or anything in-between. In essence, critical thinking is a disciplined manner of thought that a person uses to assess the validity of something: a statement, news story, argument, research, etc Peter Facione, a Dean at Santa Clara University, has commented nicely about critical thinking and the ideal critical thinker: "We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. [Since this includes almost all types of logical reasoning,] CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society."
Critical thinking is not a recent idea. In fact, it dates back to the days of Socrates, the great master. Around 2500 years ago, Socrates established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief. He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as "Socratic Questioning" and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. Socrates’ practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato, Aristotle, and many other Greek scholars. In the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), a good number of scholars in Europe began to think...