Is Critical Thinking a Lost Art?

The Thinker
Photo by Josh Rocklage / Unsplash

I had a conversation with a very successful person last year that still resonates with me.

A retired successful business person, now college professor, they expressed to me just how much they believe critical thinking is lost on their post-secondary students.

After teaching for the last 15 years, this individual noticed a trend among young people in their ability to apply critical thinking skills to testing and comprehension. In other words it was easy for students to regurgitate information but difficult to act on it.

Most of the reports and tests this individual was marking, are almost word for word interpretations of the textbook or what they believe the they, the professor, wants to hear.

The conclusion this professor came to, through observation, was that we — or at least these students — are getting worse at applying critical and creative thinking processes to real world applications.

After some pondering for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if, ‘that’s what was missing from my education!

You see, a college or university education used to be about developing critical thinking skills, but more to the point these days — and as Seth Godin pointed out years ago —  the post-secondary education of today may in fact be encouraging memorization and regurgitation above and beyond creative and critical thinking skills.

Is 1984 happening right under our noses?

Critical thinking could be defined as ‘the art of reflecting and evaluating our conscious understanding and ways of thinking with the hope of improving them.’

Another definition:

‘The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information, gathered or generated by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning and/or communication as a guide to belief or action.’

Or as the picture at the beginning pointed out, maybe it’s just reasoning, problem solving, decision making, analyzing and evaluating.

Whatever your definition though, are we getting worse at this kind of thing?

Are we killing creativity?

The moral that I took from that conversation, is that we need to encourage people to apply this type of thinking to everything they read — yes even my blogs — hear or see.

It is not enough to give people information or more tools for reaching their education, or work-related goals, we all need to experience the process.

As a coach, I need to help others think critically of what I’m writing, saying or speaking.

I hope they are analyzing, finding the rationale of what I write evaluating it’s merit, then making a decision based on the information they have.

Everything we strive to achieve or get better at, is an experience of education. You can’t skip ahead to year four and get your degree, you have to learn systemically, immerse yourself in the experience.

Darren Beattie

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