To Think Critically

Last year a guest speaker posed this question in a faculty meeting, “So what is the difference between thinking critically and just thinking?”  At the time, this person had no idea that our handbooks, banners, wall engravings, and email signatures all contain the phrase, “Harpeth Hall educates young women to think critically, to lead confidently and to live honorably”.

So what does it mean to have critical thinking skills?  I read what Hamilton College professor, Paul Gary Wyckoff, said he wanted his students to learn, and I believe he had some great ideas about critical thinking.  I have borrowed heavily from his list and added a few more that may be more pertinent to high school students.  Here are a few skills, which I believe we are helping our students develop every day and every year.

  • Remember to ask the question.  Some of the most powerful teaching moments happen when the right question is posed.  Curiosity needs to begin with articulating the right question at the right time.
  • Know the importance of having people with different experiences and perspectives as part of the decision making process.  It makes for a better and longer lasting solution.
  • “If you can’t change your mind, you might not have one!”  Yes, it is straight off of a bumper sticker.  Listen to others and keep an open mind.
  • Think in terms of “multiple, rather than single causes”.  The challenges of the 21st century are not that simple.  Likewise, think in terms of multiple, rather than single answers.
  • One large theory cannot always be applied to everything.  It is sometimes more helpful to understand the context of the problem so that a more nimble and individualized approach can be applied.
  • Understand our own biases.  We all have them, so it is important to read and listen to “information that is contrary to our views”.  It is our “tendency to seek out information in accordance with our previous views”.

Of course all of the best and most critical thinking can take place and still we are nowhere if we do not have the skills to communicate those ideas effectively through spoken and written word.  Critical thinking for its own sake is not the destination. Connecting with others through these ideas and perspectives is crucial and gives us a better understanding of how to get things done in this world.


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