Critical thinking skills are a crucial part of a person’s development, but they can be difficult to develop and require practice. Learn what defines critical thinking, see what the process looks like, and gain insight into the developmental stages.
What Is Critical Thinking?
If I were to tell you that about 400 years ago, the last of the dinosaurs disappeared when it was hit by a car in California, would you believe me? You’d probably think to yourself that dinosaurs went extinct more than 400 years ago, and neither cars nor California existed back then.
If that’s what you did, congratulations, you’ve just exercised critical thinking.Critical thinking is the ability to objectively analyze information before arriving at a conclusion. In the previous statement, for example, you could have simply taken it as truth, but instead you considered what you know about dinosaurs, cars, and California, and correctly concluded that the statement was incorrect. This example was intentionally ridiculous in order to highlight important aspects of critical thinking, but the process can actually be much more complicated than it may appear.
Critical thinking is a skill that is intentionally learned over time, often through practice and the expansion of knowledge. We regularly acquire new knowledge every day that often comes with biases. American history, for example, has traditionally been taught from the perspective of white Americans, yet it was widely accepted as fact. Without critical thinking about this presentation of history, we would have a woefully misinformed understanding of the nation’s complex, messy, and nuanced story.
The Process of Critical Thinking
The process of thinking critically about an issue or subject can be complicated and is perhaps best described through example. In the United States, when people turn 18 years old they are expected to engage in political spheres in some way, usually by voting. Since our first exposure to political issues is through our parents or other adults, it’s common for young people to remain aligned with the political party of their parents because it was what they were taught and it is what is most familiar to them.
This, however, is the opposite of critical thinking.If you were to use your critical thinking skills here, you’d review the platform of each candidate, paying attention to what they are saying about the issues and also why they might have such a position. For example, one candidate might say that welfare fraud is out of control and it’s costing the government trillions of dollars.
Since you probably don’t know whether or not this is true, thinking critically would require you to review some data or evidence and learn that this is in fact not true.This emphasizes the most important aspect of critical thinking: it has nothing to do with opinions or personal beliefs. Perhaps you liked the candidate in question and you also happen to have a low opinion of the welfare system – when it comes to critical thinking these things are irrelevant. This is because critical thinking relies on objectivity, which is when you set aside your beliefs and personal feelings in order to consider something in an unbiased way. This, of course, is also what makes critical thinking difficult.
Stages of Development
Human beings do not come with pre-installed critical thinking skills. Instead, we develop these skills over the course of our lives throughout the following six stages:1. Unreflective thinker. This is a stage most occupied, though not exclusively, by children. For example, imagine that a child grows up in a deeply religious home where they are taught that areligious people are evil. This information came from an authority figure and they have no reason to disbelieve it, so they will go on being unaware that it is wrong until they begin to see contrary evidence.
2. Challenged thinker. Best described as a person who is beginning to realize that there is some flaw or inaccuracy in their thought process. Going back to the previous example, the child may begin attending public school where they come into contact with a diverse group of people that call into question what they previously believed about areligious evil.3.
Beginning thinker. This is the phase in which they recognize the need for critical thinking. For example, after years of interacting with peers at school and forming friendships, the child might think that what they learned was incorrect and that they need to be more careful about blindly believing what they’re told.
Despite this recognition, however, they have yet to commit to critical thinking.
Practicing thinker. Having recognized themselves falling back on old beliefs or flaws in their thinking, the practiced thinker makes a conscious effort to regularly practice critical thinking skills.5. Advanced thinker. This is the phase in which the individual has begun to regularly use critical thinking skills when considering information, rather than blindly accepting information without question.6.
Master thinker. At the final stage of development, the master thinker’s critical thinking skills are automatic. They regularly make observations, consider motivations, and weigh a variety of evidence before drawing a conclusion or forming an opinion. Moreover, they acknowledge the possibility that they could be wrong and might routinely self-evaluate or change their processes in order to be more objective. It should be noted that the final stage of development often comes late in life or may not come at all.
Critical thinking is the process of objectively analyzing a subject or situation before making a decision or forming an opinion. These skills are not innate and require practice before they can be used effectively. Because we receive information from biased sources and interpret it through our own lenses, critical thinking can be a difficult task. Nevertheless, these skills help us to develop objectivity and consider information and opinions outside of our own beliefs.People develop critical thinking skills at different paces, but always through the following developmental stages: unreflective thinker, challenged thinker, beginning thinker, practicing thinker, advanced thinker, master thinker.