“Critical Thinking”

Here is an interesting and important difference between teaching our younger students in the elementary school and our older students in the secondary:  to send our younger students safely into the world, we need to teach them to obey authority.  But to keep our older students safe (for example, from political and corporate forces with a vested interest in our passivity and ignorance), we need to teach them to question authority.

To that end, critical thinking is a crucial skill.

“Critical thinking,” while prominent in our vision statement, is sometimes less well understood than “Christ-like living” and “joyful service.”  The problem seems to be that, for most of us, “critical thinking” sounds like something an overly judgmental person would do.

And, in fact, critical thinking is about judgment — but in a good way!  The history of the word makes the point:  kritikos is Greek for “able to judge.”

Critical thinking, then, is simply making a judgment.  But in order to be critical thinking, it must be an informed judgment!  And to do that, the basic process involves four steps:  (1) identify the problem or issue, (2) gather information, (3) analyse that information, and (4) make a judgment.

This process is no mystery to us, and we use it every day in all sorts of situations (deciding whether to buy or lease a car, how to vote, which church to attend, how to interpret a Bible passage, etc.).

The basic idea is simple.  The actual practice, however, is not.  It turns out that we must use both judgment and creativity in all four steps of the process.  Is something a problem or not?  Are we seeing something new that others have missed?  Which information should we gather, and which should we ignore?  How shall we set up the criteria?  What counts as a pro, what counts as a con, and how shall we weigh the relative strengths of each?  How will we consider the sources of our information, watching for how they may be biased?  Are we connecting the ‘dots’ of our information in a new and creative way?  Will people understand that?

This process, like all growth, is sometimes unsettling.  But again, it is something we all do (or should!).  And the more we are aware of and practise critical thinking, the better off we all will be.

This is why critical thinking is such an important part of our vision.  By teaching and modelling it, we are equipping our students to read the Bible more responsibly, to understand more fully what “Christ-like living” involves, and to become more faithful and effective citizens in God’s world.

Paul Teel – PCS Secondary Instructor: Math / Christian Studies

January 20, 2016