In critical condition

One of the stated goals of modern educational reform is to “improve critical thinking skills.”

We have heard phrases like this so often that it almost seems like a mantra. But it suddenly dawned on us that we’re not even really sure what “critical thinking” is. Or does. Or c — all of the above.

So we went to the heartland of critical thinking — — for a definition of the term. And sure enough, there it was:

“Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”


We believe that means “critical thinking” is setting aside biases as much as possible and seriously studying a problem.

But, we’re not sure. There is so much bureaucratese in the definition that we’re not sure we’ve got it right. If thinking can be “self-corrective,” why would we have thought incorrectly in the first place? Whose “rigorous standards of excellence” and “mindful command of their use” are we assenting to?

And, boy, don’t you hate it when you have to get out a dictionary to look up the words in a definition? Certainly, everybody in the group we hang out with would be ticked off if they knew was telling us not to be so sociocentric. (Look it up, we had to. By the way, Microsoft Word just told us sociocentric and sociocentrism are not words — they are underlined in red on our computer screen.)

Our point is how can we teach critical thinking if most of us don’t understand the bureaucratese-laden definition of it? If communication is an important part of critical thinking, why can’t its purveyors communicate the definition of it in simple, understandable terms?

We believe in the mission of critical thinking — if it is simply teaching the objective, thoughtful studying of a problem, question or situation.

(A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.