One of the most popular education catch phrases these days is the term critical thinking. It's perceived by many as the latest cure-all for what ails U.S. public schools. Some schools actually offer courses in it, as if it were a subject, like English or biology.
Children develop critical thinking skills as they acquire knowledge. First you have to have something to think about. Traditionally, children received their first exposure to critical thinking by being taught the letters and sounds of English and how to combine them to form words. Less structured reading methods have delayed the process.
Defining Critical Thinking
As educators and reformers bandy the term "critical thinking" about, it becomes clear that not everyone means the same thing by it.
Critical thinking skills encompass various mental processes from basic to highly advanced. At a basic level, a critical thinker is able to gather and assess information in such a way as to solve a problem or answer a question. At the highest level, he can leave his personal prejudices aside and come to rational decisions based on the best available evidence.
The Republican Party of Texas came in for a lot of media ridicule in 2012 when its platform rejected the teaching of critical thinking skills programs on the grounds that such teaching has “the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
Their objection might not sound so silly when placed beside sites that overtly promote critical thinking skills as a means “to deconstruct and rebuild a belief system.”
Critical Thinking Comes from Subject Mastery
The purpose of education should be to lead children from ignorance to knowledge to independent thought.
The danger of critical thinking as a educational fad is that teachers who are themselves inexperienced in these skills will lead children not to independent thought, but to the teacher's own preconceived ideas.
When subjects are well taught, children will develop critical thinking skills. Not all will develop them to the same degree, but when children are required to master a subject and not just skim it, they learn to think critically.