Education as a Critical Think Tank

During my years of higher education, I have always wondered what the main difference is between me as someone who has the opportunity to experience higher education and someone who has not such access. What major thing changes or should change after this experience? Especially in our time, when the current technology to collect data and information about our environment often outweighs our ability to process and make sense of it. At a time when technologies are producing data with rising volume and variety, speculations about its potential to advance analytical thinking are emerging fields. Besides, not everyone has the privilege to attend college and later graduate school.

I believe the primary goal of higher education has always been to improve “critical thinking.” From when Socrates and Plato were engaging fellows and students in dialogues to the modern education system, “questioning” has been a central focus. Socrates declared that one could not depend on those in “authority” for gaining knowledge and insight. He explained that a person might have power and authority and yet be confused and irrational. He indicated that to have a life worth living, an individual must be a critical questioner and possess an interrogative attitude.[1]

Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”

Even if achieving this goal has been neglected in contemporary education, asking unbiased “Why” and “How” are the main forces of any human achievement. Lack of holistic view (due to the tendency to narrow the concentration for the sake of “specialty” although interdisciplinary education is emerging to compensate), increase in focusing on the financial revenue of colleges and defining educational evaluation metrics such as university rankings regardless of students’ analytical skills are among the reasons of declining in such ability in university graduates. Although the education curriculum is a very contested arena, there seems to be a consensus that it must help students think critically via analysis, questioning, understanding, synthesizing, and rationalizing to make an informed decision without biases.

Additionally, critical thinking is a major feature of any democratic society, and the first matter that is targeted in any dictatorship system while monitoring questioning is the citizens’ analytical thinking. Linking “critical thinking to education for democracy” has been among concerns for sociologists and planners.[2] Governance is highly impacted by the citizens’ awareness and the extent to which they question thoughts and ideas before converting them into beliefs. Since democracy is a collective decision making happening through polls and voting, the majority of citizens need to have such analytical skills to progress towards a democratic society. Otherwise, the manipulation would be so easy with the aid of stats, figures, and numbers made available in our time by several media, who claim to be the “thinkers.”

Such thinking reveals its impacts on several layers and aspects. For a researcher, critical thinking skill would help to make a distinction between publications or references that are reliable and the ones that are not. This self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective nature of critical thinking [3] create an inner thought process of making a decision or coming up with a solution in a systematic manner.

Critical thinking is not an easy skill to acquire. As humans, at times the thinking that occurs inside our head is skewed because of our own experiences or misinformed understanding; however, one part of higher education role should be drawing attention to asking better questions rather than following given answers.

Another important issue in higher education that can also be an outcome of analytical thinking is understanding oneself as a part of a whole and the importance of appreciation of the privileges. This appreciation leads to a sense of responsibility and generosity towards the environment, including people and nature. In the larger picture, these attitudes are in line with concerns such as conservation and sustainability. The understanding that education is not for oneself, but it is an opportunity to serve and help to grow wisdom. 

References:

[1] Stanlick NA, Strawser MJ. Asking Good Questions: Case Studies in Ethics and Critical Thinking. Hackett Publishing, 2015.

[2] Weinstein M. Critical Thinking and Education for Democracy. Educ Philos Theory, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1469-5812.1991.tb00129.x?needAccess=true (2013, accessed 10 November 2020).

[3] John C. Critical Dialogues: Thinking Together in Turbulent Times. Policy Press, 2019.

One reply to “Education as a Critical Think Tank

  1. Thanks for your informative post, Sara. You mentioned a very fundamental, yet vital issue in modern society. In ancient times, many philosophers had preferred aristocracy over democracy as they believed, the people with the correct mindset are usually outnumbered by those who are not capable of critical thinking. They believed democracy in such a society would bring nothing but disastrous decisions to society. But things have changed, and the widespread access to higher education has increased the ratio of informed people (also, we should not make discriminatory decisions). On the other hand, we all probably believe that a well-educated person is not one with critical thinking. As you put it, here comes the role of higher education institutions to give more depth to their system and take a huge step toward not only giving people a degree but also help them to think correctly.

    Like

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