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7 - Critical Thinking

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2015

Nel Noddings
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
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Summary

The Common Core Standards are permeated by a concern for critical thinking: critical reading, the analysis of documents, editing for meaning, defining problems, solving problems, searching for order, and conceptual understanding. This emphasis is to be applauded, but questions arise not only about how to teach critical thinking but, more basically, about how to define its scope and application over a wide range of human activity. Must everyone learn to apply critical thinking to the foundations of mathematical operations? Must everyone become capable of using critical thinking in reading historical or scientific documents? And how is critical thinking related, if it is, to the moral dimension of life?

SOME BACKGROUND

Although philosophers and educators have long agreed on the importance of critical thinking, they have engaged in lively debates about how to define and teach it. Some forty years ago the debate centered on whether critical thinking is field dependent or a subject/skill that can be taught on its own. Those who argued for its field dependence pointed out – rightly, I think – that one can hardly think critically in an area about which one has no knowledge. One can hardly criticize a taxonomy of flowering plants, for example, if one knows nothing about plants. Similarly, it would be difficult to argue the merits of a political proposal if one knows little about the purpose of the proposal and the context in which it is proposed.

However, strong counterarguments have been made for the centrality of logic in all forms of critical thinking, and symbolic logic can be taught without reference to a specific subject or field outside it. Certainly, all students should become familiar with the basic form of a syllogism: If all birds can fly and robins are birds, we may conclude that robins can fly. As a math teacher, I learned that many students find logic in both words and symbols fascinating and useful.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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  • Critical Thinking
  • Nel Noddings, Stanford University, California
  • Book: A Richer, Brighter Vision for American High Schools
  • Online publication: 05 June 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139871655.008
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  • Critical Thinking
  • Nel Noddings, Stanford University, California
  • Book: A Richer, Brighter Vision for American High Schools
  • Online publication: 05 June 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139871655.008
Available formats
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Critical Thinking
  • Nel Noddings, Stanford University, California
  • Book: A Richer, Brighter Vision for American High Schools
  • Online publication: 05 June 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139871655.008
Available formats
×