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In era of rapid change, educators place premium on critical thinking

Oct. 19, 2000



The most important skill students learn during college may not be juggling Thursday night social obligations with Friday morning midterms. It may be how to think critically.

Think Magazine wrote that critical thinking is 'thinking about your thinking while you're thinking in order to make your thinking better.' In effect, it is thinking deeply and analytically.

One of the reasons that critical thinking is emerging as an essential skill is the demand from employers to be problem solvers in a rapidly progressing society.

'It is the survival skill for the 21st century. We can't foresee where technology is going to be in 10 years,' said Pat Feldman of Southern Methodist University's Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center. 'You need to be equipped to approach a challenge by identifying your own learning style and referring to your past experiences.'

Unfortunately, it is not a skill that most students can learn in high school.

'It's been pretty clear since about 1970 that a lot of students are at a dualistic level of thinking all the way through high school,' Dr. Tom Hanks, professor of English, said. 'As you get older, you become a more multiplistic thinker.'

At the college level, Hanks said that when the student is not thinking critically, it is probably because the professor has not asked them to.

'I think it's fair to say that most universities are still teaching on a lower level,' he said.

Dr. Anne-Marie Bowery, assistant professor of philosophy, teaches a critical thinking class in the philosophy department.

'I really see my task as making [students] aware of the [critical thinking] skills that they already have and removing barriers that keep them from thinking critically in other areas,' Bowery said. 'When those barriers are removed, they can think critically in a larger context.'

Southern Methodist University has implemented Oracle, an acronym for Optimum Reading Attention Comprehension Learning Efficiency. The program is an application of critical thinking to help students read and study more comprehensively.

'The course is really about learning to be an effective student,' said Feldman, who is also the associate director of the Oracle program. 'The goal here is life-long learning.'

Among other universities in Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas introduced a new class called critical thinking at a four-year college. At The University of North Texas, about 1,600 students take psychology 1000 -- a class meant to produce deeper thinkers.

Other than practical application, however, thinking critically lends itself into larger and broader arenas.

'It increases the quality of your life by making you a better thinker,' Bowery said. 'It can help you be less susceptible to the power of consumerism and advertising. It can give you the ability to give you more informed political judgments.'