Critical Thinkers - Born or Made?

<p>This link was recommended on another thread, and I thought I would post it here rather than hijacking that discussion:</p>

<p>Views:</a> Do Majors Matter? - Inside Higher Ed</p>

<p>The article discusses some findings of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which tracks students’ progress in developing critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills while in college.</p>

<p>Gains in CLA scores tend to follow entering ACT or SAT scores. This is an interesting finding in and of itself, but the study authors corrected for this.</p>

<p>Gains broken out by academic major returned some surprising results. For example, those majoring in foreign languages made larger gains than those majoring in English or History.</p>

<p>The article and also some readers' comments (which do a good job contributing to the discussion) suggest that those studying engineering do not gain as much in critical thinking skills as do those in traditional liberal arts disciplines.</p>

<p>My lifetime experience suggests that engineers have excellent critical thinking skills. Furthermore, I see little in language learning that inherently provides for developing critical thinking, as much of it is rote memorization.</p>

<p>As much as I would like to believe that critical thinking can be taught, I am beginning to sense that the best critical thinkers are born with a talent for it, which is then developed through education. I also wonder if many of the gains measured by CLA can be explained by the maturation of the brain that takes place between ages 18 and 23.</p>

<p>What do you think? Can an unmotivated person person of average intelligence be taught to think critically? Or does it require a desire and an ability?</p>

<p>I would agree that the intelligence one is born with may determine the degree to which critical thinking skills can be developed. However, I also think that critical thinking skills can be taught in different ways, depending upon the discline, or the desire or learning style/personality of the individual. There is no one way to “think critically” and we should try not to fall into the trap of using the same methodology to measure it.</p>

<p>One of the comments, posted by a business school professor, said that, when speaking of critical thinking skills, they’d like to see the following:</p>



<p>This is also along the lines of what I consider to be the ability to think critically.</p>

<p>I think to some degree critical thinking is inborn – although it can be taught to other people.</p>

<p>My son questions everything – even things that practically everyone takes for granted. As a small child, he did not like doing craft projects. In nursery school, when the class was going to do a craft project, he would ask “Is this a something we have to do or can I go play?” The teacher said she had never had a child ask this before, but that it was a reasonable question that deserved a well-thought-out answer. Some of the crafts were closely connected to the curriculum and were therefore required. But others were not – and she would allow my son to skip those.</p>

<p>A person with this sort of mindset from early childhood has no difficulty growing up to be a critical thinker. But other people sometimes do. </p>

<p>In my experience, critical thinking is often stifled during the early stages of formal education and then expected later. This is not likely to harm people like my son, but I think it could create problems for those for whom critical thinking does not come easily.</p>

<p>There’s a big industry founded on the basis that it’s not only made, but that it can only be taught by an educated elite. </p>

<p>I think it’s practiced. People become better thinkers by thinking. This is not really taught, it’s entirely up to the thinker themselves, not any instructor.</p>

<p>Just my thoughts.</p>

<p>I agree Vladenschlutte, in the sense that many people really don’t want to think that hard – or perhaps aren’t capable of it.</p>

<p>I think you are all wrong about language learning - especially beyond the first year. Even in the first year, I think that learning vocabulary and new grammar gives one insights about culture and to a better understanding of ones native tongue. I think it’s also good exercise for the brain. But once you get past the first year, you are reading texts, watching movies and learning about the history of the cultures where that language is used.</p>

<p>I think like just about everything, some of it is nature and some of it is nurture. It can certainly be stifled and there is a reasonable argument to be made that much of our pre college education does stifle it even though most schools give it lip service.</p>



<p>I can see how subjects like math and philosophy can teach reasoning abilites. But I don’t see how these types of activities do.</p>

<p>And I say this as a person who started learning a second language my freshman year of college and progressed to graduate level study of the language.</p>

<p>For majority of children critical thinking can be developed and depends a lot on the environment. Exceptions are those who have any abnormalities in brain function one way or the other.</p>

<p>So major does make a difference. I always maintained that EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) major provide the best oppertunity to increase critical thinking at a college.</p>

<p>Based on observing 2 different k-12 systems, I can say that while one is taking full advantage of using math as a most important developer of critical thinking, another one is completely neglecting importance of math and basically focusing on memorization. According to my observation, critical thinking could be developed in every single person. I am not aware of any other means but by teaching math correctly. However, I am not dismissing that there are other ways that are not familiar to me. BTW EECS is not even possible without great math background. I do not believe that it develops critical thinking, I believe it is using it, just as any engineering. While critical thinking is important in Computer Science, again, major itself does not develop it at all and there is no math application in CS. I am the one who has switched from EECS (after 11 years of job experience, just did not like it at all) to CS (have much longer job experience, many companies, platforms, various software development using several computer languages, love them all). I am pretty familiar with both.</p>

<p>From the cited article:</p>



<p>Anyone who has studied a foreign language beyond the basic/intermediate level learns that there are many ways to express a thought in that language. The same is true, of course, for one’s native language, but the intellectual circuitry for much of that gets wired in during childhood. I’m speculating here, because I’m no expert, but perhaps the exercise of thinking through how best to express oneself in a language not one’s own develops intellectual capabilities that have more general application.</p>

<p>Check out “The Bilingual Advantage” 5/30/11, NYT.</p>

<p>A quick skim of the OP article left me thinking there was a real lack of consideration for intuitive thought, intuition, etc. Both are present and both need equal consideration, IMO.</p>

<p>That’s a great reference, dylanr, and worth quoting in part here.</p>





<p>I agree with this. I think that certain classes and instrutors can encourage critical thinking, but I also think that it is up to the individual. </p>

<p>I know that with my younger son, he has developed his thinking greatly throughout high school by reading and writing about topics that interested him and were never been taught in his high school classes. His developing these skills came from high interest in the topics he read, wrote, and discussed on his own. His ideas were off the beaten path, yet pretty interesting. It all came naturally through practice of thinking through topics he was passionate about. I feel that as a college freshman he continued to develop these skills this year, and he took classes from a variety of departments.</p>

<p>There is critical thinking and then there is rational thinking. Smart people tend to think as irrationally as those with “less intelligence”. [What</a> Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought- Stanovich, Keith E. - Yale University Press](<a href=“]What”>Book Details - Yale University Press)</p>

<p>Yes, it is interesting to distinguish between intelligence and critical thinking.</p>

<p>I suppose an intelligent person quickly absorbs facts and concepts.</p>

<p>One can be capable of critical thinking but not apply it.</p>

<p>And then there is the tendency of people to confuse beliefs with knowledge based on factual evidence.</p>

<p>The discussion of critical thinking skills required for math/engineering compared to learning foreign languages brings to mind the case of Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant in England who happens to have savant abilities in both math and foreign languages. He has been interviewed several times during the past few years; I saw a feature on 60 Minutes a while back where they covered how he learned the Icelandic language in less than a week; in his book, Embracing the Wide Sky, he also discusses his theories on brain development in both normal and autistic individuals (wonderful book!) and argues that they are not all that different. This article discussing his beliefs about the similarities in learning math and language:</p>



<p>[A</a> savvy savant finds his voice | The Australian](<a href=“]A”></p>

<p>I think it is a 70/30 split, 70% inherited. Thereafter it can be nurtured by becoming a philosophy major.</p>

<p>An older, but still good, book on this subject is “Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science” by Alan Cromer</p>

<p>Having seen what crazy things many people allow themselves to continue to believe in long after one would have expected that they should have developed their full rational capacities, I have to agree with Cromer’s basic thesis that most people need to be specifically taught to use their critical capacities.</p>

<p>Here is a link to the article on the benefits of being bilingual:</p>

<p><a href=“[/url]”>;/a&gt;&lt;/p&gt;

<p>The discussion is of people who use two languages all the time, presumably from birth. The scientist notes specifically that the gains do not come merely by studying a second language.</p>

<p>What I find most noteworthy is that bilingualism causes the brain to develop differently which provides a number of advantages in regard to multitasking, problem solving, and slowing the development of Alzheimer’s.</p>