Critical Thinking, Critical Looking: Key Characteristics of an Educated Person

Critical Thinking, Critical Looking: Key Characteristics of an Educated Person

Richard C. Emanuel (Alabama State University, USA) and Siu Challons-Lipton (Queens University of Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5816-5.ch013

Abstract

Critical thinking involves the comprehension and expression of the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, and criteria. One important aspect of critical thinking is the analysis, interpretation, and understanding of images. This is generally known as visual literacy. Visual literacy may be initially demonstrated at the basic levels of recognition and understanding – recognizing an image, telling what a symbol means, indicating the name of a painting and/or its artist. As one becomes more skilled at analyzing and interpreting the meaning of visuals, they are maturing toward visual fluency. Studying a cultural artifact provides students an opportunity to put things in context and to practice critical thinking. Two works of art—the Coffee Cup print and The Death of Marat painting—are provided along with example analysis.
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Setting The Stage

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.... To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one. - John Ruskin (1872, p.268)

And then remember…the biggest word of all – LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. - Robert Fulghum (1986, p.5)

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. It involves the comprehension and expression of the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, and criteria. A critical thinker is able to interpret, analyze, evaluate and infer. Strong critical thinkers can also effectively explain what they think and how they arrived at that judgment. They can apply their ability to think critically and thereby advance earlier opinions.

Critical thinkers demonstrate:

  • Concern to become and remain well-informed,

  • Alertness to opportunities to use critical thinking,

  • Trust in the processes of reasoned inquiry,

  • Self-confidence in their own abilities to reason,

  • Open-mindedness regarding divergent world views,

  • Flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions,

  • Understanding of the opinions of other people,

  • Fair-mindedness in appraising reasoning,

  • Honesty in facing their own biases, prejudices, stereotypes, or egocentric tendencies,

  • Prudence in suspending, making or altering judgments,

  • Willingness to reconsider and revise views when honest reflection suggests warranted change.

Critical thinkers strive to achieve:

  • Care in focusing attention on the concern at hand,

  • Clarity in stating a question or concern,

  • Orderliness in working with complexity,

  • Diligence in seeking relevant information,

  • Reasonableness in selecting and applying criteria,

  • Persistence though difficulties are encountered,

  • Precision to the degree permitted by the subject and circumstances.

As long as people have deliberate intentions in mind and wish to judge how to accomplish them, as long as people wonder what is true and what is not, what to believe and what to reject, strong critical thinking is implied (Facione,1990). The ability to think critically is almost always listed as one of the desirable outcomes of an undergraduate education (Facione et al., 2000; Halpern, 1998, 1999). Although there is considerable disagreement over who should teach such courses, whether they should be stand-alone generic courses or incorporated into specific content areas, and what sorts of thinking skills students should be learning in these courses, there is virtually no disagreement over the need to help college students improve how they think (Facione et al., 1995; Halpern, 2001; Perkins & Solomon, 1989; Terenzini et al., 1995). There is also virtually no disagreement about the types of learning activities that empower students to think critically. Research consistently identifies student participation, encouragement, and peer-to-peer interaction as being significantly and positively related to critical thinking (Smith, 1977). A study of more than 24,000 college freshmen revealed that writing, interdisciplinary courses, and giving a class presentation are positively correlated with self-reported growth in critical thinking (Tsui, 1999).

In the US, Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton both supported the national education goal for higher education that declared that it was a national priority to enhance critical thinking among college students (The National Education Goals Report, 1991). However, this national priority was never funded. In the UK, the now defunct Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) wrote that higher education courses should foster: “the development of students’ intellectual and imaginative powers; their understanding and judgment; their problem-solving skills; their ability to communicate; their ability to see relationships within what they have learned; and to perceive their field of study in a broader perspective” (Gibbs, 1992, p. 1). Despite all the research, policy statements and good intentions, critical thinking remains a relatively elusive academic outcome. One important aspect of critical thinking is the analysis, interpretation and understanding of images. This is generally known as visual literacy.

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