The Five Colleges of Ohio
Teagle Foundation

Critical Thinking: Context & Definitions

“Critical thinking” has long been a concern of American education.  John Dewey identified learning to think” as a primary purpose of education in 1933 (Halpern, 2003, p. 8).  Dewey defined critical thinking as, “Active, persistent and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends.”  Concepts common to many current definitions of critical thinking include using reasoning/logic, judgment, metacognition, and reflection and questioning (Halpern, 2003, p. 6).  These skills have been of particular interest to educators in the last 25 years due to the fact that American students are perceived as deficient.  One early report described the United States as a “nation at risk” because of a failure to provide education that fosters critical thinking (National Commission of Excellence in Education, 1983).  The U.S. National Education Goals Panel argued that U.S. educators should strive to increase their students’ broad knowledge base and strong critical thinking skills by the year 2000 (National Education Goals Panel, 1991).  There is much empirical evidence that critical thinking skills can be taught in an educational context and then transferred to many other domains (Halpern, 2003, pp. 10-19).   

The decade of the 1980s saw an increased emphasis on education designed to foster critical thinking (Facione, 1990).  In 1987 the American Philosophical Association appointed a panel of experts to consider the status of the concept of critical thinking in education.  The panel developed a common definition of critical thinking (see below) and made recommendations to educators.  The panel agreed that critical thinking involves specific intellectual skills as well as a motivational disposition. 

Higher education has maintained a strong focus on the concept of critical thinking.  The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) has listed “inquiry, critical and creative thinking” an important skill that should be fostered by higher education (“Liberal Education Outcomes,” 2005).  Critical thinking is a central component of a liberal arts education.  Facione argued that, “Liberal education leads us away from naïve acceptance of authority, above self-defeating relativism, and beyond ambiguous contextualism.  It culminates in principled reflexive judgment” (Facione, 2007, p. 19).  Critical thinking skills are important for a democratic society, and it is argued that every generation needs better critical thinking skills than the previous one due to a bigger and more complex base of knowledge (Halpern, 2003). 

The AACU encourages the use of academic assessment to increase students’ critical thinking skills.  Current outcome studies suggest that few students are proficient in critical thinking (“Liberal Education Outcomes,” 2005).  The AACU indicated that, “The key accountability question to ask of campuses is whether they currently expect all of their students to undertake complex projects and capstone assignments that are assessed for advanced liberal education outcomes.”  We believe that our colleges foster such practices that should lead to the enhancement of critical thinking skills and motivation among our students.  It is our intention to examine (and encourage), through assessment and reflection, educational practices that foster critical thinking.

References

Facione, PA  (1990).  Critical thinking:  A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction.  California Academic Press.

Facione, P.A.  (2007 update).  Critical thinking:  What it is and why it counts.  http://www. insightassessment.com/dex.html

Halpern, D. F.  (2003, 4th edition).  Thought and knowledge:  An introduction to critical thinking.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Liberal Education Outcomes:  A preliminary report on student achievement in college.   (2005).  American Association of Colleges and Universities. 

National Commission of Excellence in Education.  (1983).  A national at risk:  The imperative for educational reform.  Washington, DC. 

National Education Goals Panel.  (1991).  The national education goals report:  Building a nation of learners.  Washington, DC:  U.S. Printing Office.

Critical Thinking – Definition

The definition of Critical Thinking is from the "Delphi Report" which is a report that was issued when a panel of experts in critical thinking and higher education composed a consensus definition. The executive summary of the Delphi Report can be found: http://www.insightassessment.com/dex.html

Definition: Purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based.

The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.