Sunday, June 19, 2005

Critical Thinking

If you’re like me, you will have at one point or another had questions about what exactly professors mean when they use the word ‘critical’ in different ways. For example, what does it mean to critically evaluate three research articles? What does it mean to be told “Do not simply summarize the sources; think critically about the topic.” How would I write a critical review and how am I supposed to read critically?

Like so many of our other blog topics, critical thinking or critical reading are subjects that involve too much content to properly cover in a short piece. However, hopefully this entry can start you thinking about how you can approach your learning tasks more critically!

Working Definition
To start, I’m going to define “critical” as an approach to an activity, whether it is reading, writing, or something else. Note: the following process is not as specific as the one you would follow if you were taking analyzing an argument for a critical thinking course! Essentially, the approach involves:
--taking the subject of your attention apart
--looking at the pieces from various angles
--then putting them back together with some kind of thoughtful evaluation
It involves stepping outside of how you are used to thinking about something, and putting a different spin to it, shaking it up, revisiting your customary way of viewing it. In short, you are changing the way you consider a subject by allowing yourself to question it and imagining different possibilities. Once you have taken it apart, putting it back together with “thoughtful evaluation” means considering information you have read, gained from class discussions, heard in your lectures, experienced in your life, and most especially learned from your course of study or discipline area, and applying that to the topic.

I recently watched the movie “The Incredibles.” My first response to the movie was, “That was great: it was entertaining and I liked the animation.” But then when I thought about it a bit, I realized that parts of me were annoyed with the movie. I thought, “Why can’t they put make the hero a woman for a change?” Now arguably, there were a few strong female characters in the film (daughter, mom, costume designer), but the plot featured Mr. Incredible.

My first response to the movie was uncritical. I was approaching it from the perspective of one who wants to be entertained. But with my second response, my feminist perspective kicked in. I understood my annoyance from my feminist stance as being left out of the main role once again. If I were to continue to think critically about the movie, I would use that feminist perspective to shape view the pieces I chose to analyze. I might examine how much air time the feminine characters had, what relative importance their actions had to that of the lead, the balance of power in the film (both good guy and bad guy were guys!) etc. And if I were putting the pieces back together, I would make it clear that I was analyzing the movie from a feminist perspective with the aim of illustrating how the movie could have gone one step further in offering fresh perspective to a time honored idea of super heroes.

Next time I will talk about critical reading and provide some links.

I’d love to read comments!

Facione, P. A. (1998). Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. California Academic Press. Retrieved December 2004, 2004 from

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