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In the modern education system, there can be a noticeable schism between the analytical world of mathematics and the critical world of the humanities. Some students find it easier to think analytically in a linear mathematical way than think critically in a non-linear literary way. One of the first ways to develop critical thinking in an academic setting is to apply the word why to the subject at hand. To think in a critical manner is to question every aspect of a topic, from the credibility of the source to your own subjective conclusions and opinions.
Learning to think critically is an active and ongoing exercise for many people. One way to improve critical thinking skills is to use more than one source of information before forming a solid opinion on a news item. Compare several newspapers' coverage of the same event, or watch different television news outlets to see how the same story could be slanted in one direction or another. When you begin to think critically about a current event, you may become more aware of how much your own prejudices, beliefs and opinions can influence your stance on the issue.
To critically analyze things means to consider all aspects of a subject with an open mind before forming an opinion. It does not mean to be unnecessarily cynical or judgmental about the validity of the facts or the source. Essentially, a critical thinker is like a jury member, who must weigh not only the facts of the case, but how those facts were obtained and the motivation behind them. To think critically means to examine not only the subject at hand, but also the methods used to generate the information.
This is why the question "Why?" is an important one to ask when you learn to think critically. Why would an author choose to assign those particular names to his or her characters? Why didn't the reporter interview the leader of the opposition? Why did this politician vote against a proposed law? Critical thinking skills are learned through active practice, so you may want to spend some time each day examining a controversial issue such as abortion, capital punishment or gun control and ask yourself why you believe the way you do on that issue? By taking the time to examine both sides of a polarizing or controversial issue, you can improve your ability to think critically in general.
I have always been one to question what seemed obvious, so I never had to really work on developing my critical thinking skills. Even as a child, I often challenged my teachers by asking them why things were a certain way, and I also often got in trouble because of this, but I think it has made me a deeper person.
I always have a ton of opinions and thoughts on everything from philosophy to current news. Some of my friends enjoy debating with me, because I have plenty to say. Others avoid me, because they are not critical thinkers, and the fact that I am forcing them to think bothers them.
I think that it is better to question why than to never wonder. How else are we going to unlock secrets and really see things for what they are?
In my first semester at college, I had to take a class called “Introduction to University Life.” During that class, the professor focused almost entirely on how to develop critical thinking skills.
Before taking this class, I had pretty much accepted whatever was fed to me by journalists and various other opinionated people. I never really dug to the bottom of issues, but suddenly, my professor was telling me that I had to do this in order to succeed at college.
He was right. Every single class I took involved writing essays that looked deeper into subjects and forced me to examine several sides of issues.
So, I think that just being at college taught me to think critically. Without being forced to delve deeper, I probably would have just gone along accepting things as they were.
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