It is unfortunate that Stuart Wrigley’s attempt to argue that “there is no such thing as critical thinking” betrayed a significant lack of critical thinking (“The write way to think”, Opinion, 4 January).
His initial judgement that the concept of critical thinking “is just a tautology” is based on the claim that “thinking encapsulates being critical”. This judgement requires that there is no such thing as poor thinking – that is, no jumping to conclusions, framing and anchoring problems in decision-making, confusing cause and correlation, circular and ad hominem arguments, straw men, confusing necessary and sufficient conditions, and so on. His claim that “most sentient human beings think well enough” is based, in large part, on his overhearing students in a queue at a college cafe discussing the best way of getting from one place to another.
All this is disturbing enough but Wrigley’s argument then goes on to demonstrate a further significant lack of critical thinking. For one thing, if the concept of critical thinking is tautological, given that “thinking encapsulates being critical”, why is not the term “clear and logical thinking” also tautological, though it is a quality that Wrigley wants students to develop? In addition, why does he commend academic writing courses for their ability to teach students to “start thinking better, often with startling results”, given his assertion that we already “think well enough” (prior to such courses)?
The value of critical thinking has been very well documented in many reports and research studies for many years. Quite simply, we can become better at analysing and evaluating reasoning, at productively focusing on interpretation of meaning, at solving problems by focusing on their content, at being creative in developing alternative explanations and hypotheses, and at producing coherent, clear and persuasive argumentation. In short, we can become better at doing these (and other things) by developing and reinforcing our skills in critical thinking in various ways, including by receiving explicit instruction in them.
Roy van den Brink-Budgen
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