Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Higher Education Develops Critical Thinking Skills

If there is one thing that higher education does is to teach people to think critically---well sort of. People are prone to think in ways that confirm existing beliefs. I have seen this over and over with students that must write the pros and cons on any controversial topic. By the time I read the introduction I can tell which way they are leaning in their coverage. The process of confirming pre-existing beliefs makes its thematic way throughout the entire paper.

The reasons is that many people justify their answers without seeking alternative explanations. Much of their time is spent in seeking confirming information while ignoring that information which counters their main point of view. By the time they are finished with their paper they have written in favor of one point of view, gave a few tid bits of information against that point of view, and then disconfirmed the competing information.

 The amount of effort expended in seeing or understanding another perspective on an issue was little to none. Critical thinking is one of the purposes of higher education and students cannot be blamed for learning how to critical think. If such bias in thinking is common in a university setting where people are actively engaged in learning it is likely more prevalent in the "real world".

That "real world" is full of people who can't think beyond their own self-confirming beliefs. These beliefs come from some impression, logic, or confirmation of their identity and are hard for people to shake. To admit there are other valid arguments and to integrate them into a whole understanding of a situation requires a type of personality focused on self-development.

Arguments and conflict are based in two disagreeing points of view where each person puts forward their logical points to persuade another person. Unfortunately, two people put forward ideas but neither of them may be listening to what the other is actually saying. It is difficult to find a solution when either of the parties refused to see any point but their own.

Students that focus on understanding more than justifying their existing beliefs are likely to learn more. This learning process can be used each time they run into an argument and situation. To create a full understanding of a situation by being open minded to alternative explanations is not a sign of weakness but more of a sign of internal and intellectual strength. A person who understands situations by looking at multiple points of view and then adjusts their arguments accordingly has greater credibility. 

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