One of the touted benefits of attending a college is that we are supposed to learn how to think critically. Yet colleges as a whole usually fail to aid us in this regard. Many students are probably under the impression that they have learned to think critically, perhaps because once they are in college they begin to question the worldviews that they were brought up under. But is questioning previous norms the same thing as thinking critically? Students likely are questioning previous worldviews because once in college they are presented with powerful arguments against some of the philosophies they knew.
Students usually come to college with a preconceived notion as to how the world works, and college professors present them with alternative views, and then college students believe they have learned how to think critically. Maybe some have. But I would venture that many have simply learned how to think more like their professors. Students may discard some of their prior beliefs, or they may discard all of them, or they may do some or none of the above. But in reality, critical thinking requires more than questioning prior beliefs and/or forming new beliefs.
Critical thinking requires the formation of at least three skills. Firstly, it requires the ability for one to be able to examine any argument, no matter how airtight it may or may not seem, and deconstruct it, noting the strengths and weaknesses of the argument. Secondly, critical thinking requires the ability to understand the various ways in which language is used, interpreting the linguistic and grammatical underpinnings in the said argument. Thirdly, the best realization of critical thinking would be one that formulates a student who possesses the ability to think independently and creatively. It requires a much higher force of intellect to create a substantial, innovative argument then it does to deconstruct a previously held argument. So, while the ability to deconstruct arguments is one benchmark of critical thinking, the ability to form visionary arguments reaches to even higher levels of critical thinking. In sum, the student’s intellect can and should be developed, especially toward the realms of creativity.
As you can see, our colleges have a long way to go in molding students of this nature. Undoubtedly, there are several reasons as to why this isn’t happening. But the reasons aren’t as important as the path toward solution. There must be some professors who have learned critical thinking. If they exist then they care about free expression and the examining of ideas even more than they care about a platform to propagate their own agenda. At least that is the hope. These professors are the ones most valuable for a democracy, an entity that thrives quite largely on the debating of ideas. In closing, we need to happily reward the experts who postulate critical thinking and forcefully deny the soapbox professors who only wish to proselytize in the classroom. But, of course, this is open for debate.