Introducing Critical Thinking into the Classroom

by Rose Mary Foncree

(the below is an introduction to the webinar Rose Mary led on this subject which can be found HERE.   The webinar presents the argument for introducing critical thinking into the classroom and provides examples and ideas for doing so.)

For many of us who teach college students, we have likely found ourselves surprised at the lack of critical thinking among our students, especially as reflected in essays and classroom discussions.  When first considering the topic of critical thinking in the classroom, I began to reflect on my own college education and discovered that the courses I had taken for granted as basic requirements for the freshman and sophomore years had vanished from the required curriculum of most colleges and universities.  For example, I had not realized that an introduction to philosophy and a required course in logic had virtually disappeared as required courses.

At the high school level—where many of our interests and abilities are discovered, shaped, and formed—I learned that there is now a dearth of speaking and debate instruction—a consequence of budget-cutting as well as the desire to avoid introducing controversial political topics.  In my own case, I learned almost everything I know about thinking and argumentation from serving as a debater in high school and in college.

Here at Belhaven, we have a faculty mandate to integrate the Christian faith throughout the curriculum.  Foundational to this integration is the understanding that education (in its primary sense) is the acquisition of knowledge by which, secondarily, one becomes wise.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, English Standard Version).  As John Patrick of St. Augustine College has written, a liberal education “is an apprenticeship  in wisdom.”

But how to introduce critical thinking into the classroom remains a challenge for everyone in higher education.  We can certainly teach our students how to identify and avoid logical fallacies.  We can introduce them to inductive and deductive reasoning.  But perhaps more importantly, students must be taught how to find evidence for their assertions and arguments.  We must teach them to take charge of their minds by basing their beliefs and ideas on facts, logic, and reason.


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