“Socrates,” 1885, by Leonidas Drosis, The Academy of Athens (trip2athens)
By Archana Agarwal
There is much that has been said over the centuries to praise critical thinking. The methodology named after the Greek philosopher Socrates – the Socratic method – is one of the earliest critical thinking teaching tools known to man. Centuries later, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius “The Philosopher” warned in his meditations that “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact; all we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Quickly going through Galileo, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless others, we discover that the practice of extolling the benefits of critical thinking is literally thousands of years old. So what is it that makes it such an honorable skill set? How does critical thinking really benefit us?
Although this list can be expanded considerably, we believe that these 6 merits are among the most significant.
1. PROMOTES CURIOSITY
Curiosity exists to help us better understand not only the world around us, but also the things that matter in our experience of that world. This extends to the subjects that we teach in schools, and also those that we find relevant in our daily lives.
One thing about effective critical thinkers, they remain curious about a wide range of subjects and topics, and generally tend to have broad interests. They are curious about the world and about people , and they understand and appreciate the cultures, beliefs, and views that are a shared quality of our humanity. It is what makes them lifelong learners as their thirst for knowledge never dies.
Because critical thinkers are curious by nature, opportunities to apply critical thinking skills are all around them at all times. They are always on the lookout for opportunities to apply their best thinking habits to any situation. The desire to think critically about even the simplest issues and tasks indicates a desire for constructive results. To this end, critical thinkers constantly ask these pertinent questions:
- What’s going on? What am I seeing?
- Why does it matter? Who does it affect?
- What am I missing? What is unseen and why is it important?
- Where did this come from? How can I be sure?
- Who is saying this? Why should I listen to this person? What can they teach me?
- What else should I keep in mind?
- What if…?
- Why not?
Effective critical thinkers don’t take anything for granted either. They never stop asking questions and enjoy exploring every aspect of a topic and the deeper facts behind all types of data.
2. INCREASES CREATIVITY
In our travels, we have asked educators around the world about the most important skills children need to thrive beyond school. It’s nice to see that cultivating student creativity is high on the list. In fact, it’s number 2, just below troubleshooting. There is no doubt that effective critical thinkers are also largely creative thinkers. Creativity has been unquestionably defined as a necessary skill to be part of the modern, collaborative workforce.
The desire to think critically about even the simplest issues and tasks indicates a desire for constructive results.
Critical thinking in business, marketing, and professional partnerships depends largely on the ability to be creative. When companies get creative with products and the way they are advertised, they thrive in the global marketplace. The change in the valuation of creativity and its ability to increase revenue by improving product value reaches all market segments.
Creative people question assumptions about many things. Instead of arguing for limitations, creative minds ask “how” or “why not.” They run away from groupthink. Creativity is timeless and has unlimited potential, which means that we are unlimited as creative people. If creativity is within all of us, then we are also unlimited. This applies to students of all ages, and while the intellectual risks that any critical thinker creatively takes are also sensible, such a person is never afraid to step out of their creative comfort zone.
3. STRENGTHENS PROBLEM SOLVING CAPACITY
Those who think critically tend to be instinctive problem solvers. This is probably the most important skill that we can help our students develop. Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, and they will face complex challenges using critical thinking skills to design imaginative solutions.
One of the most prolific critical thinkers in history, Albert Einstein, once said it: “It’s not that I’m that smart; it’s just that I stay with the problems longer.” It’s also worth noting that this is the same guy who said that when given one hour to solve a problem, he is likely to spend 5 minutes on the solution and the remaining 55 minutes he will spend on defining and researching the problem itself. This kind of patience and commitment to truly understand a problem is a mark of the true critical thinker. It is the main reason that strong critical thinking ability is essential to be an effective problem solver.
Developing strong critical thinking skills prepares our students to face the complex problems that matter to the world head-on. After all, our students are inheriting topics like:
- global warming
- the need for healthcare
- water shortages
- e-waste management
- energy crises
4. IT IS A MULTIFACETED PRACTICE
Critical thinking expands across a multitude of a wide range of disciplines and develops and cultivates a wide variety of cognitive talents. You could say that it is an interdisciplinary activity for the mind and that the mind must be exercised like a muscle to stay healthy.
Among with other things, critical thinking promotes the development of things like:
- Reasoning skills
- Analytical thinking
- Assessment skills
- Logical thinking
- Organizational and planning skills
- Knowledge of languages
- Self-reflection ability
- Observation skills
- Mental opening
- Creative visualization techniques
- Questioning ability
- Decision making
This list could easily be expanded to include other skills, but this gives us an idea of what is developing and improving when we decide to think critically in our daily lives.
5. PROMOTES INDEPENDENCE
Getting our students to begin to think independently is one of the many goals of education. When students think for themselves, they learn to be independent from us as well. Our job as educators, in this sense, is to empower our students to the point where we essentially become obsolete. This process is repeated year after year, student after student, and moment after moment as we cultivate independent thinking and responsibility to learn in those we teach.
Independent thinking skills are at the forefront of learning how to be not just a great thinker, but a great leader. These skills teach our students how to make sense of the world based on personal experience and observation, and to make well-informed critical decisions in the same way.
Developing strong critical thinking skills prepares our students to face the complex problems that matter to the world head-on.
When we think critically, we think seriously in a self-directed way. Our thinking is disciplined and therefore becomes a self-correcting mindset. It also means that such proactive thinking skills become second nature as we continue to develop them through learning and experience.
As we said before, independent critical thinking skills are among the best skills educators strive to give their students. This is because when we get students to think independently, we have given them a gift for life. After school is out, they can enter future ventures and move on with confidence and pride. This, of course, brings us to the last point.
6. IT IS A LIFETIME SKILL
As all teachers know, what they do with passion every day prepares our students not only for during learning time in class, but also for success and well-being when the formative years are over. When Aark Learning introduced the STEAM Class and the Mental Mathematics & Memory Enhancement to educators around the world, we too had these goals firmly in mind. That is why we made sure that all these processes involved the active construction of independent mindsets and critical thinking, and we fostered the lifelong learning skills of students.
Many great educators have said many important things about the importance of lifelong learning skills. Philosopher John Dewey, however, probably said it best: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ”
Educators want their students to be successful both inside and outside the classroom. The idea here is to ensure that once they leave school they no longer need our guidance. In essence, our students must become teachers and leaders. The goal is that they never stop being students. This is what it means to be a lifelong learner and critical thinker.