By Elisabeth TurnerColumnist
What is critical thinking? In simple terms, critical thinking is the ability to make sense of a particular stratum of information while maintaining an awareness of one’s own biases. It is the ability to judge a situation on the basis of natural law, on action and reaction.
As students at a private, up-and-coming institution of higher learning, we are more than familiar with such an approach to knowledge. We are instructed to “think outside the box,” to apply terms to various factors that shaped a past way of living or mode of thought.
While the basis of such an approach — to look past the narrow framework of our cultural conditioning to discover a previously hidden construct — is sound, the means by which we’ve come to look past these narrow frameworks is not. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are being instructed to assess the facets of a present-day issue based on our feelings and our immediate and probably limited knowledge of the concrete data that actually structures the issue.
Take, for example, a politics class. The professor asks you to write a speculative paper on the constructs of the Cuban missile crisis or the Cold War. We know that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and we know that America did not succumb to what is now Russia. But what we don’t know is what could have happened, and hence, our professor asks us to speculate this by means of a paradigm.
This, in essence, is critical thinking. What if the Berlin Wall hadn’t fallen? What if relations with China had grown awry?
These are important questions that today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders, should ask themselves. Speculate we must if we are to become capable executives and professionals. But when we live in a society that disregards the logic of reason and favors sentimentality, our synthesis of “the facts” turns out to be nothing more than an egotistical dialogue.
Our professors tell us to base our arguments on facts, but because we’ve been conditioned to believe in the sovereignty of the impulse and to disregard our biological makeup, we subconsciously strap facts to the back seat. As we write, we think more about what feels right than what actually is.
If we continue to allow our emotions to govern our actions, we will never sustain our state or ourselves. Instead, we will enter into a darker world, one in which facts do not matter, one in which beliefs are so fluid that they allow us to say and do anything we wish.
Having valued the intensity of argument and the ability to pump out a paper merely for a grade more than the truth, we’ll have trivialized justice and equality - the principles that are part of our desire to advance to the next level of industry. Our decisions will be made based on how sad or angry or happy we feel during a particular day, rather than on matters of substance.
We must recognize that we cannot always have things our way and that the truth often hurts. No, the facts don’t always make immediate sense, but if we allow them to stand alone, we may see that they speak for themselves. If we are going to be critical thinkers, we are going to have to base our arguments on something solid, not on something like our emotions, which change daily with the weather. If we want America to move forward, we should set aside this flabby stew of emotions and begin to feast on the nutrients of reality that are not feelings, but the truth constituted by facts.