The mysterious skill of “critical thinking” — schools try to teach it and employers seek workers who have it. But the definition is hard to pin down.
Here are some definitions of critical thinking:
- “The ability to cross-examine evidence and logical argument. To sift through all the noise.”
-Richard Arum, New York University sociology professor
- “Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”
-Linda Elder, educational psychologist; president, Foundation for Critical Thinking
- “Do they make use of information that’s available in their journey to arrive at a conclusion or decision? How do they make use of that?”
-Michael Desmarais, global head of recruiting, Goldman Sachs Group
I like the first definition the best, but of course employers define it any way that makes sense for their workplace.
In any case, it has become an increasingly sought-after skill.
Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site Indeed.com. The site, which combs job ads from several sources, found last week that more than 21,000 health-care and 6,700 management postings contained some reference to the skill.
A concrete example of what critical thinking means in the workplace comes from NYU music business graduate Brittany Holloway.
Ms. Holloway, who now works as a content-review and fraud specialist at Brooklyn-based digital-music distributor TuneCore, defines the skill as “forming your own opinion from a variety of different sources.”
Ms. Holloway, 21 years old, says her current job requires her to think critically when screening music releases before they’re sent to digital stores like Apple Inc.’s iTunes.
Critical thinking and problem solving skills are related, and employers report they are having difficulty finding college graduates that measure up in those areas. Colleges, having “institutionally supported and encouraged [a] retreat from academic standards and rigor”, are regularly chastised for failing to teach those skills.
… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”
Will Common Core Standards help develop critical thinking skills?
Part of the problem is a decline in content-based instruction that affects students from kindergarten to college. Common Core Standards, with their emphasis on non-fiction reading and evidence-based writing, may remedy that. But that is still to be determined, partly due to the ongoing implementation problems of CCS.