The third pillar in our Liberal Education Model is Critical Thinking. This is a method for thinking about the world around us, which we can summarize as evidence-based reasoning. It starts with observations and questions - lots of questions. We observe the world around us, in whatever particular lens appeals to us, and start to ask the how and why questions. Every question leads to ten more, and often the hard part of critical thinking is figuring out what is a good question, the “right” question that will lead you somewhere interesting. Critical thinking also means questioning our assumptions, our underlying biases and world-views; it means collecting data and evidence to try to answer our questions, using logic to put together arguments, making informed conclusions, and then communicating and defending those conclusions.
This approach to generating new knowledge is common to all disciplines across the university. Whatever we are studying, we observe, we ask questions, we collect some data and evidence; we articulate some tentative or possible answers and verify those possible explanations against logic and counterexamples; we eliminate some of them, we see what explanations are left and make them as strong as possible. Then, we combine the best answers into theories or models which we can use to predict future happenings. This is the Academic Method of evidence-based reasoning.
This approach again goes back to the early Greek philosophers, but increasingly relates to the higher order skills needed for success in careers and as citizens. Essentially, Liberal Education teaches students to think well, and to learn how to learn. These are the skills students learn in university: the ability to dig deep into a complex problem; to focus on hard ideas and make something of them; the ability to read tons of complex stuff and analyze it and synthesize it; the time management skills; the self-discipline, the determination, and the independence to work without constant supervision; the ability to unpack assumptions and carefully question accepted knowledge; the openness to new ideas, new ways of looking at things and new ways of solving old problems. These skills are what employers want, and what our society needs in its leaders.
Critical Thinking: the process of identifying an argument, evaluating evidence and reasoning, producing informed decisions, and communicating and defending those decisions.
"Reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do"
- Susan, M. Brookhart, How to Assess High-Order Thinking Skills in your Classroom
Critical thinking furthermore means to be able to look at issues or potential connections with an open mind and minimal bias. It is to look at both sides of the argument and form an educated opinion. It also includes wrestling with thoughts and new information being learned to best be able to apply this knowledge in situations that arise outside the classroom and in everyday decision making. It is a two-part process; it is an internal process where on our own and with sources we critically think about the topic at hand, but it is also to act externally on the internal decision that was made. A liberal education provides the time and space to practice and apply criticial thinking, resulting in its place as the third liberal education pillar.
Critical Thinking Articles
Below are articles that specifically tie into the critical thinking pillar. There is a variety of content, opinions, and positions throughout these articles. This is a good place to start looking through resources for the essay that needs to be written as well as a place for the curious eye to wander and catch an interesting article to read.