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“Critical thinking” simply refers to the practice of questioning the conclusions of others, no matter how well-educated, intelligent or thoughtful they appear. It means not accepting at face value the seemingly credible statements of authoritative figures simply because of those figures’ credentials or positions in the academic or professional worlds. Critical thinking is a skill developed through one’s own academic progress, when students are learning not just how to memorize facts, but how to attain knowledge. The attainment of knowledge occurs not just through the reading of books, but through research and experimentation that enables individuals to learn from the ground up how machines function, how government operates, how natural phenomena occur, and how and why people pursue or engage in particular activities.
Critical thinking should not be confused with obstinate behavior or arbitrary rejection of other’s conclusions or analysis. Rather, it involves thoughtful, informed engagement intended to challenge conventional wisdoms. It involves applying a reasonable degree of skepticism to the public statements of those we elect to represent us, and to achievements that appear statistically improbable. When the late baseball player Roger Maris’ record for hitting home runs in a single season (61), which had stood for 37 years, was suddenly and dramatically broken by not one, not two, but three players, some analysts pondered the statistical probability of such an occurrence, and concluded that such an aberration was almost certainly attributable to outside influences – in this case, the use by all three athletes of performance-enhancing drugs. That use of “critical thinking” turned out to be warranted. Similarly, many Americans think more critically now about government assertions of foreign country military capabilities because of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Such thinking is a bedrock of a democratic system, where individuals enjoy the freedom to elect their representatives, and to judge their performance once in office.
Critical thinking is a major life skill. It helps one to analyse a situation in all its dimensions objectively.Critical thinking leads to deeper understanding. This skill paves the way for other life skills like managing one's emotions, decision making and problem solving. In the context of academic pursuits and exercises, critical thinking will assist the learner to understand the 'why' and 'how' of concepts, theories and applications better.
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