Critical Thinking

Why Critical Thinking Matters

“Critical Thinking” is much in favor in academia these days. Curricula descriptions from elementary through higher education abound with claims of its attainment.

While the basic definition of Critical Thinking is simple: “thinking about thinking in order to decide what to believe and/or how to behave,” the actual process involves a complex interplay among three major domains: self, thinking skills, and subject matter. When individuals are knowledgeable about these domains, their chances of making satisfactory decisions are greatly improved.

Critical thinking is part of daily life, since shopping, voting, working with others, and keeping up with current events all require decisions about belief and/or behavior. Critical thinking has been recognized as an important life skill at both national and state levels, in the SCANS1 report from the United States Department of Labor, the 21st Century Skills, and Common Core Curriculum of Learning.

Effective critical thinkers are constantly developing the three domains of self, thinking skills, and subject matter. They consciously think about the roles that their own knowledge, skills, experiences, and personal dispositions play in their reasoning, learning, and interacting with others. Learning styles, personality assessments, emotional intelligences, and cultural awareness belong in this domain of the self.

Effective critical thinkers are also aware that abilities in acquiring, analyzing, organizing, and assessing information are essential. This thinking skill domain includes learning and memorizing tactics, reasoning skills, and problem solving strategies.

The third domain, the subject matter, determines how components of the other domains are used. While awareness of human behavior is important in the study of literature, logic prevails in mathematics. Certain types of thinking, such as classification, analogy, and sequencing, are used in most subjects; however, the consideration of cause and effect is more speculative in history than in physics.

In the field of library science, defining, classifying, and sequencing are essential thinking skills for both managing collections and for finding information. However, the problem-solving skill of establishing the credibility of references is of supreme importance, especially in these days of instant access to information.

The promotion of critical thinking in academia carries an implicit message that it is a good thing to do. However, the independent thinking that critical thinking promotes sometimes “makes waves” for established concepts, procedures, etc. Therefore, for critical thinking to thrive, it needs an environment that supports independent thinking and is open to new ideas and changes. This is the challenge for education in a democratic society.


Cited Sources:

1 SCANS – Secretary’s Report on Achieving Necessary Skills, published 1991, providing information about the skills required for the workforce of 2000 and beyond.

2 Common Core Curriculum of Learning

3 21st Century Skills

Nurturing Creativity in Children

Serious, organized research on creativity began about 65 years ago, at a time when people thought that only some lucky individuals were creative and that artistic talent was a requirement.

All that has changed! Studies repeatedly show that starting at birth everyone is creative and it comes in many forms. So, now that we know that children are creative, how do we nurture that gift?

  1. Since creativity is inborn, we observe our children carefully to find out what they are really interested in and what they love to do.
  2. We provide them with many age- appropriate experiences to help us determine and develop those interests and passions.
  3. We create environments that foster creative behavior.

For example; Rebecca, now four years old, really loves the two cats that are household pets. She has pretended to be a cat for the past two years. She has developed her own way of drawing cats and shares these pictures and imagined adventures in cards and letters to friends and relatives.

On every visit to the mall, Rebecca insists on visiting the pet store where she spends a lot of time with the little animals. Is Rebecca into cats and pets too much or does she have a natural interest in the animal world? This city girl’s visit to an uncle’s goat farm helped her family decide.

While remarking on the odor, she made no complaint. Instead she proceeded to meet the baby kids, the rabbit, the dogs and the chickens. The latter were of such interest that she insisted on entering their pen to observe them and stayed there happily until lunchtime.

That day everyone agreed that Rebecca had an inborn interest in animals. Now her pretending, her imagining and her drawing are comfortably viewed and encouraged as creative behavior, and her family is thinking about other ways to help Rebecca explore her interest in animals.

Families have the greatest influence on children’s development. For children with difficult home situations, child care providers, teachers, tutors and mentors can be very important. Studies of children who have succeeded under adverse conditions all reveal that the children had at least one caring adult who played an active, consistent role in their lives.

In nurturing the creativity of successful children, adults have probably done most of the following:

  • Respected the children’s opinions and self-expression
  • Encouraged daydreams and imagination, curiosity and questions
  • Given them opportunities to make decisions
  • Enjoyed being with them and rejoiced in their accomplishments
  • Avoided lots of judgement when the children were working on projects
  • Provided skills and information for projects
  • Set appropriate guidelines and limits (e.g. no glue in the living room)

Since all of us are creative, we can use these effective tactics on ourselves as well. So while you are nurturing creativity in the younger generation, get in the act and do the same for yourself! Enjoy the wonderful gift.



The excellent book, Growing Up Creative, by Teresa M. Amible Crown publishers, Inc., NY, 1989, was a very helpful reference for writing this essay and is highly recommended for all who are interested in “nurturing a lifetime of creativity.”