Critical thinking, a way of life

This week’s #mentormonday is a double whammy. We are providing mentorship on a tool that will not only help you succeed in your education goals but also in life as well.

Consider this scenario. A young technician is planning her day. On her schedule, she is to transport a woman to the MRI scanner but overhears another colleague talking about a device that the woman has implanted in (inside) her body.
Here is the background. An MRI scanner is like a big magnet that is able to take pictures through the body for doctors to get a better look at things in the body like muscles, tendons, and organs. Because, the MRI is like a large-strong magnet, there cannot be metal in the room because the magnet will attract them no matter what they are attached to, even if they are within a person’s body.

Because of this, the technician became concerned about the composition of the device in her patient.

When the technician questioned the patient’s nurse about the device the response went something like this: “the doctor ordered the test and must have known about the device, so it must be okay.”

Unaccepting of this response, the technician then asked the radiology technician about who responded in a similar fashion. Finally, after a dead-end Google search and continued concern about he pending procedure and the unknown device, she contacted the manufacturer of the company who made the device and learned that the device is in fact not safe for use in an MRI scanner.

This example (hopefully with not too much medical jargon) is an example of thinking critically. Identifying a problem, understanding a potential risky or harmful situation, seeking out more information, trusting but verifying, and when a question was not answered to satisfaction, utilizing resources to seek out an expert for problem resolution.

In actuality, this example represents a life-saving catch, which was an end result of thinking critically.

Did you know there is a website dedicated to critical thinking? Peruse their website by clicking here.

There you will find definitions and tools to assist with your journey to becoming a critical thinker.

But don’t become overwhelmed by their website with scrolling images of really smart looking people embodying conceptualization. Let us all start by reading information in the “Begin Here” tab.

I am not here to reinvent the wheel so, directly from their page:

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components:

1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and

2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior.

It is thus to be contrasted with:

1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated;

2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and

3) the mere use of those skills (“as an exercise”) without acceptance of their results.

The Problem.  Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

A Definition.  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 taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result.  A well cultivated critical thinker: raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely; gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;

thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, 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 and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

(Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008)

Wow! That last part makes it seem like critical thinking can solve all the world’s problems, right?

So what is critical thinking?  Did you learn it in school?  I don’t recall a direct lesson on the topic in any of my education. However, I do remember being challenged to seek out more information and question when something just doesn’t sound right. Most importantly, I have come to the realization that critical thinking is foundational rule.   Furthermore, I have become increasingly aware of those around me who do not have this concept down.

Critical thinking is important in education, career…LIFE!

To work on this valuable life skill, start with these 9 strategies to incorporate critical thinking into your daily life.