Monday, December 5, 2011

Teaching for Critical Thinking

In his excellent book “Teaching for Critical Thinking,” Stephen Brookfield introduces the basic process of critical think as involving 4 components: (1) identifying the assumptions underlying our thinking as it relates to our actions, (2) checking out how much these assumptions are accurate, (3) looking at our ideas and decisions from more than a single perspective, and (4) after doing all of this, taking informed action (1). Brookfield states that “if you can’t think critically your survival is in peril because you risk living a life that- without your being aware of it- hurts you and serves the interests of those who wish you harm.” His approach to critical thinking is certainly more than we might consider to be critical thinking; in our case, we often use the term to denote an ability to critically appraise or assess a journal article in order to glean information from it to use for patient management. Or, conversely, we often think of it as the art of tearing a paper apart. We are not always cognizant of the political margins around our thinking and learning.

To Brookfield, the core process of critical thinking is in hunting assumptions. He defines an assumption as a guide to truth embedded in your mental outlook, and he offers as examples how assumptions occur in daily life: the words people use are assumed to have specific meanings, as do the gestures they use. We make assumptions about political candidates and whether or not they are telling us the truth. All day long assumptions are being made by use, and most are held because our experience tells us to hold them- we might wear a sweater based on an assumption made by reading about the weather in the morning newspaper. Assumptions can occur at far deeper levels. Many are linked to dominant ideologies. We might assume a person wearing worn clothing is poor, that the guy in a suit over there is a college administrator, that everyone we meet is heterosexual because that is assumed to be the norm, etc.

When you think critically, you begin to question the assumptions about how problems are defined. Since we are in a chiropractic college, we make assumptions about the value of chiropractic- and we make assumptions about the value of allopathic medicine. And we act as a result. Here is but one example: when we read a newspaper article lauding a recent chiropractic research finding (or if we read the actual paper on which that news release might be based), we often applaud this finding and take it without delving into its rigor. When we read a paper that casts a more negative light on chiropractic, we often look to see if we can point out all its flaws. We assume the good paper is good and the negative one is bad.

When we think critically, we hunt out our assumptions, check them out to see if they are accurate, try to view these from multiple perspectives and only then are we able to take informed action. And this may play out in education every bit as much as others areas of life.

1. Brookfield S. Teaching for critical thinking. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons, 2012:1

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