On Nurturing Critical Thinking


(A popular article; by one NEB)

Critical thinking is an issue dating back some 20 years ago, if we look at some books on that concept available on the market. This really shows that it is—as a matter of fact—not a new concept anymore now. But around that time, Indonesia was still under the then President Soeharto’s regime, during which people’s critical thinking was not facilitated, let alone nurtured. In fact, in some cases, some figures who found themselves critical voicing themselves protesting against some government policies and their corrupt practices were considered to commit a subversive act, the conduct of which caused them to end up in prison.

In the era of reforms now—to contradict, everybody turns “critical”. If we lend a keen ear to even laymen talking about what’s going on in this country, we can sense a degree of critical thinking they employ in their discourse. This is a good indication of democracy—in this case—freedom of speech finding its way in this country. The problem is that being critical requires much more than simply being able to criticize and stop there. And in the case of the above laymen’s discourse, to criticize is about as far as they can go, which is actually natural given the nature of spoken discourse. That is, in criticizing the government policies and the likes, they don’t have to analyze their argument, back it up with sound evidence, etc. to finally come to a solution and conclusion. They can pretty much say what they want to say without even being informed about the issue at hand. The worst that can result out of this is the fact that the talk may end up being as cheap as gossip that may not change anything at all.

The subject on critical thinking tells a lot about what it means and takes to be critical. Of the many things covered, there are at least three important points that are most valuable. The first one is the fact that we can not rely on our daily life practices to develop our critical thinking and that critical thinking must therefore be taught and nurtured in education. This may be trained to students through classroom teaching-learning techniques by which those students exercise their thinking skills talking about topics they have to present their opinion on, support that with evidence, etc. Such techniques as discussion, debate, and presentation allow the students to exercise this.

The second is the fact that the nurturing of critical thinking can better be done through writing practices. It can be argued that even the simplest form or genre of writing requires students to utilize their thinking skills so as—for example—to summarize points of a passage they find most important along with sounds reasons for deciding so. More complex writing practices require even much higher-order thinking skills of the students. To write an essay—for instance, students must really organize their opinion or argument in such a way that not only does it fit the format of an essay, but it also has to represent the linear thinking pattern acceptable in academic writing.

The third is that those two points above may suggest the possibility of argumentative essay writing to promote critical thinking skills, the consideration being that argumentative essay writing is what some assign advanced students to do to pass their level in their learning institutions and that through experience it can be seen that during the process of writing their argumentative essay, students show sign of utilizing and improving their critical thinking skills significantly given the nature of argumentative essay and steps or stages of writing that. In fact this can be used for a research topic, the mini-proposal of which can be submitted along with this reflection.

What I hope for is that this will contribute to the betterment of our own practice of argumentative essay writing and its teaching, and also to the promotion of critical thinking as its final end. The least it can do should be to add to the repertoire of research into critical thinking in this country. Heaven knows.

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