Critical Thinking: Necessary for Survival, or a Lost Art?

by hamiltonmj1983

I have always thought that critical thinking is the single most important aspect of education. This may be due to the fact that I attended a small liberal arts college, followed by graduate work in which critical thinking was necessary. I have many friends who either did not attend college, or who’s higher education consisted of technical schools teaching specific skills useful only in a specific job. These people did not receive any formal education in critical thinking. Does that mean they lack the skills?

Some people might not like this answer, but I think, to at least some extent, yes! There will be some people whose home life, primary and secondary education, and background will provide some critical thinking skills. I do not think, however, that these compare to that obtained from a liberal arts education (primarily a liberal arts education in the humanities). I would argue that many of the classes an average high school student would take do NOT foster critical thinking. Students are given answers, which they are forced to memorize to pass tests. Students are not given questions without answers already being taught to them.

Now that I am teaching at a community college, I am searching for ways to get my students to think critically. The difficulty that I am facing is that I teach religion (specifically New Testament and Old Testament Survey) courses at a state funded school. I am not allowed to ask students what they believe or why they believe it. How do I get them to ask tough questions about what they believe? I am considering the following options:

(1) Approaching the material by giving basic lectures on the socio-historical context behind the texts, and making the students work through the content on their own to determine the author’s intention behind the text. The primary method I am using is that of Inductive Biblical Study (for more on IBS, see here ).

(2) I am considering introducing a variety of ideas about the text from various scholars, and making the students reason out which ones make sense and which ones don’t, and give valid reasons why they do or do not feel as though ideas are valid.

(3) Finally, I am thinking about giving the students a certain text, or multiple texts (possibly a Pauline letter and a corresponding passage in Acts), and requiring them to use only the material in the texts to give an estimated date of composition (based on their knowledge of the time period from earlier lessons), author, audience, and purpose of writing. After which, I will discuss these issues, and ask the students whether they agree or disagree.

What do you think? Do these sound like reasonable attempts to foster critical thinking? Will it make the students do more than just memorize facts? Will it make them think on their own more than they otherwise would?