Are Critical Thinking Skills Decreasing?
At Liberty University, instead of darting out of the door at the end of a lecture, students lined up at the front to thank their professor for teaching.
Lew Weider, a Biblical Worldview professor at Liberty, said he was in shock at the students’ responses when he first began teaching critical thinking many years ago.
“I appreciated [the student’s gratitude] but I was like, ‘why is this occurring?’ It’s because It’s not being taught, they had never been shown how to evaluate content and they were just so grateful for what they were learning in class,” Weider said.
Education observers have noted for years that the ability of people to think critically seems to be declining. Part of the reason, according to a Liberty professor, is that it is no longer commonly taught in schools.
“[Critical thinking is] understanding a situation and being able to analyze it beyond just what’s on the surface,” said Clark Greer, a Strategic Communication professor. “There’s a lot more to issues and problems than sometimes just looking at it, you have to understand what caused it and what are possible solutions to that and how to communicate it.”
The idea that critical thinking is not commonly taught is a relatively new thing.
“It wasn’t taught as a subject, but it was taught as a part of a process,” Weider said.
Although he excelled in math as a subject, Weider had a difficult time understanding why he needed to memorize different theorems he would likely never use again.
“I went up to the teacher at the end of the class and I said I don’t get this stuff,” Weider said.
His teacher sat down with him and explained how mathematics was intended to teach students that life is a step-by-step process and that they cannot get to step two until they have completed step one.
“Math teaches you a process about thinking about life, you may never remember these things, but you’ll remember how to learn how to live your life,” Weider said.
Weider took the lessons he learned in math class and was able to apply them to his everyday life.
“That’s what critical thinking does, it’s a process that teaches you to evaluate whether something is true or not,” Weider said.
This is why a number of teachers have shifted from a lecture and notes style of teaching to a more hands-on based learning.
“I think one of the best ways to teach critical thinking is to work through an actual situation and say, okay let’s see what we did right let’s see what we need to fix for the next [project],” Greer said.
In Greer’s strategic communication classes, he says he teaches the students hands on, allowing them to work in groups to solve problems.
“Being able to analyze and problem solve are crucial skills that students really need to have,” Greer said.
Weider says students no longer line up to thank him after class now, but believes there is still a great need for critical thinking to be taught.
“I don’t want my students to become cynics or to get to the place where they don’t trust anything. That’s not the purpose of critical thinking,” Weider said. “However, before a person believes content for themselves they should evaluate critically what is being communicated.”