Some lessons for good thinking
When I was a student at an Economics Course at the University, we had to solve an excercise that consisted on analyse an article from a financial newspaper, apply some macroeconomic concepts and answer some suggested questions.
The article explained Argentina´s economy evolution from a stated period and refered to the data included in a graphic published from a Public Organization. We found rather easy to solve the task. When we returned to class with the excercise done, we became frustrated to realized that most of us had mistaken.
Professor ´s explanation was that some of the arguments that the journalist gave were confusing for the simple reason that most of us weren´t objective about the conclusions. He argued that it had happened because we didn´t pay attention to the chart given and because we didn´t make an effort to understand the information it provided.
Professor told us that what we had done was just admit that the explanations from the well-known financial journalist were right.
Then, the professor led us to pay attention to the chart and the source provided with the article. We could see that, in some way, the statistic numbers did not match with the arguments of the phenomena explained by the journalist. Professor said that we concluded wrongly because:
The trusted on the source: all of us knew the journalist and recognized him as a referent in financial news; also due to the credibility of the Newspaper. So, We assumed the arguments given as a true. The appropriateness of any source depends on the context.
The lack of sense: we didn´t compared the arguments with the statistic information from the chart. We didn´t read the information given by the chart before the conclusions that we came up.
The lack of evidence: we didn´t weight every conceivable strand of evidence. We thought about what we had read and we immediately came up to an answer. We followed the journalist judgments.
As Professor had the fundamental critical thinking skills, he showed us the way we should have proceeded. He explained the way we could “read” the information bellow the chart and showed us how important is to take into account the certainty that provides research. He agree that when we make decisions is important to point to a number.
So, the skills we learned were to:
- identify and evaluate assumptions;
- clarify and interpret expressions and ideas;
- judge the acceptability; the credibility;
- evaluate arguments of different kinds;
- analyse, evaluate and make decisions;
- draw inferences;
- produce arguments.
The items above are tipping points to Critical Thinking.
“Critical thinking is skilled and active interpretation and evaluation of observations and communications, information and argumentation”
(Fisher and Scriven, 197,p.21). (1)
Critical thinking “is an active process, it involves questioning and metacognition thinking about your own thinking. Is a crucial preliminary to drawing conclusions about complex claims. It includes evaluation because this is the process of determining the merit, quality, worth, or value of something”. (2)
In Critical Thinking´s book, Alec Fisher described the skills and the process we could follow when we saw ineffective ways of doing something to give a good model which students then practice before trying to use that skill in real situations. According to traditional Critical Thinking Theory, this is the way we shall proceed:
- We shall identify fundamental skills which are essential to good critical thinking;
- we shall then show some characteristic weaknesses we are all inclined to display when doing this kind of thinking;
- after that we shall show a good model of thinking in that way (say; decision-making) ;
- then students will practice this kind of thinking;
- and finally students will be faced with whole tasks (analogous to the first experience) in which you will need to deploy the relevant skills at the appropriate points.
The result should be that we can produce better thought out, more reasonable, beliefs and actions that most of us do in the absence of such practice.
Back to the experience in the course, in the end, Professor demonstrated “the hidden side” (3) of the information provided. He demonstrated that our way of thinking had been ineffective to “read” correctly the article and that led us to wrong decisions. He provided us good ways of “reading” information which could be used in appropriate situations whenever needed. We realized how important is to be conscious about that sometimes, we could accept confusing information as true without judging it, even though when it makes sense for us. In the end, he gave us a powerful illustration of the way our mind worked.
But sometimes, the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty…
The complexity of the situation, the context and awareness of oneself in connection with our perceptions, our way of thinking and with our emotions beyond could led us to a direct and clear understanding.
¿Wat do you think?…
(1) Fisher, Alec in Critical Thinking, p.8.http://assets.cambridge.org/052100/9847/sample/0521009847ws.pdf critical thinking
(2) idem 1, p.14
(3) Student´s guide of Freakonomics: rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J.Dubner. http://www.Freakonomics.com
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