#CritLit2010 reflections – first week

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?…

Notes
(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
The Critical Thinking Community



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6 Responses to #CritLit2010 reflections – first week

  1. Wonderful to learn your views. Great post.
    I resonate with you, in that we seldom question about some “facts” presented to us. Why?
    I have also experienced the feeling and mindset that “Professor told us that what we had done was just admit that the explanations from the well-known financial journalist were right.” Why would we believe in the explanation in the first place? What cause the mis-judgement? Is it a matter of perspectives and interpretation – from the financial journalist? What are the motives of the journalist? What are the angles used by the professor? What are the alternative interpretations?
    You mentioned that “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.”
    Thanks for making me think.
    John

  2. maferarenas says:

    John,

    Thank you very much for your thoughts and reflections. You contributed to my understanding of the importance to explain any time the point of view of the learning experience. In my case, I suposse the professor should have told us from which perspective he displayed the activity, as you said: “the angles, the alternative interpretations”. That reminds me the importance to be conscious of our responsibility for how we think and how we teach to think.
    About your first question, we seldom think on “facts”. In my opinion, we have learned to judge not to think in facts. I think that “facts” are observations, specific to time and context. When we evaluate, we make judgments, generalizations, sometimes with criticism and that make change the way to interpret facts.

    Thanks, you make me think too!
    María Fernanda

  3. Alan Cooper says:

    The last paragraph in your posting made me think of this morning’s session with Dave Snowden – and of some of the ideas linked to on his website about how to deal with complex and chaotic situations. I don’t quite buy into all of the ‘Cynefin’ stuff, but certainly there are situations whose complexity is such that ‘thinking with emotions’ is all we can do. What is difficult is knowing when that is the case as opposed to when those emotions might lead us astray.

    • Alan,

      With regards to “thinking with emotions” it seems to me a difficult task. Both activities are rather opposites. I consider that if we could recognize our emotions (and the needs behind them) and that could help our thinking.

      Thank you very much.
      María Fernanda

  4. Heli Nurmi says:

    Hi Maria, you have a beautiful name, I enjoyed to link it to my blog 🙂

    I love especially this part of your post, it must be found again and again..
    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”.
    Cheers, let’s meet in forums and comments!
    Heli

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