Volume 30, Issue 3, Fall 2015
Critical Thinking Instruction
A Realistic Evaluation The Dream vs. Reality
Since the 80s, educators have supported instruction in critical thinking (CT) as “an Educational Ideal.” This should not be a surprise given some of the more common conceptions, e.g., Ennis’s “reasonable reflective thinking on what to believe or do,” or Siegel’s “being appropriately moved by reasons,” as opposed to bias, emotion or wishful thinking. Who would want a doctor, lawyer, or mechanic who could not skillfully evaluate arguments, causes, and cures? So, educators endorsed the dream that, through proper CT instruction, students’ critical skills and “rational passions” could be greatly improved. In spite of the dream’s appeal, the reality is, after 30+ years, there is little reason to think the dream resembles reality. After describing what I take to be an adequate definition of CT, such a depressing conclusion will be supported by CT assessment scores from across academe, the continued widespread disagreement among experts in nearly all fields, including CT, and the abundant psychological research on rationality and decision making. And finally, while the ideal extols the value of objectivity, I shall argue that bias may be unavoidable because personal values play a vital role in the evaluation of many arguments.