On Nurturing Critical Thinking 2

(A fragment of a paper; by one NEB)

Critical thinking is here defined as “reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on what to believe or do” (Ennis 1987: 9-26). Further, Norris and Ennis (1989) proposes dispositions of it. They assert that critical thinkers:

– seek a statement of the thesis or question

– seek reasons

– try to be well-informed

– use credible sources and mention them

– take into account the total situation

– keep their thinking relevant to the main point

– keep in mind the original or most basic concern

– look for alternatives

– are open minded and

a. seriously consider points of view other than their own

b. reason from starting points with which they disagree without letting the disagreement interfere with their reasoning

c. withhold judgment when the evidence and reasons are sufficient

– take a position and change a position when the evidence and reasons are sufficient to do so

– seek as much precision as the subject permits

– deal in an orderly manner with the parts of a complex whole

– employ their critical thinking abilities

– are sensitive to the feelings, level of knowledge, and degree of sophistication of others (p. 12)

Given its above dispositions, critical thinking is therefore very crucial. It enables people to be able to think for themselves; that is, they can analyze information coming to them so that they will not be misled. It can also empower them to think for others, namely, they can make others not misled by their argument and even believe in it.

To make things complicated, critical thinking cannot be attained just like that in our daily life. Though we can see that some people—even laymen—turn very “critical” today owing to various information they receive as is obvious in their daily discourse talking about various topics on government policies and corrupt practices—for example, it is very likely that the information they grasp may be misleading and the laymen misinformed. This is especially so if those people simply digest the information coming to them without necessarily processing it first. In fact, they may not be able to analyze the information, crosscheck it with their background knowledge, look for evidence, and finally come to a solution and conclusion at all.

Their being critical—this way—may just end up being a cheap gossip that will not change anything. In fact this is what we can see prevail in daily discourse among laymen. They talk as if they knew for sure what they are talking about. Yet this is well justified given the nature of spoken discourse, that is, speakers don’t have to prove what they say.

As these both aspects of critical thinking are essential in life and should, therefore, be nurtured in education, be it formal or informal, the school must incorporate it into daily teaching-learning practices in the classroom.

Discussion and debate as teaching-learning techniques may well facilitate the promotion of critical thinking as students involved usually talk about a topic that they will argue on by presenting their opinion. For this purpose, according to Alwasilah (2001: 46), “sensitive issues such as corruption, collusion and nepotism have potential for use as topics to develop critical thinking.”

One weakness about the use of those oral techniques in an attempt to promote critical thinking is that students are allowed little time to organize their opinion or ideas, this resulting in their not being able to work on enough sound evidence to support their argument. This way students will at best resort to merely arguments without back-up to defend their stand. This will not make them informed about what they argue lacking all the evidence they need to bring along, the process of which undoubtedly takes longer time to do. If they were given enough time to prepare themselves and their argument with all the support evidence, they would perform much better.

This entails the fact that critical thinking and its skills should be trained. And the best medium to nurture it is through education. This can be done in various ways in the teaching-learning practices (See Curran 1986). One possibly effective way of teaching and promoting critical thinking is through argumentative essay writing. From the title, it may be clear that students are trained to not only present their opinion, but also be able to organize their argument, weigh pros and cons, support their position with evidence, and finally come to a solution and conclusion. This suggests that critical thinking may exist in the process of students’ writing.

Complex writing assignments such as this “ask students to make more difficult choices about a topic—choices that eventually bring them to the questions: “What is it that I think about this subject? How did I arrive at what I think? What are my assumptions, and are they valid? How can I work with facts, observations, inferences, and so on, in order to convince others of what I think?” (Composition Center, 1997). As the title suggests, it is believed that through argumentative essay writing, students will train themselves to write on a topic in such a way that they argue on the topic presenting their argument backed up with all the evidence to finally come up with a solution and conclusion. Not only will this show in their final product of writing, but this will also prevail during the whole process of writing from the moment they choose a topic, narrow it down into a thesis statement, work on pro-arguments to support the thesis, etc.

As is obvious, the entire process of argumentative essay writing above along with the final product (to be compared with the first draft) may show and promote critical thinking as the process may employ most of the dispositions of critical thinking.

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