Education: What Is Critical Thinking? by Kyle Phoenix

Recently I've been teaching a class on this and the students of course needed a clean and clear system for how to define critical thinking.  We were able to figure out that being smart was natural, that all conscious beings, whether man or animal have some level of smarts.  But learning, focused learning leads to intelligence.  Which brought us to the question of then what is intelligence and that brought us to critical thinking.  The assumption that critical thinking is the capacity to ask why is not only puerile but harmful because critical thinking is so much more powerful and useful.

Critical Thinking can be broken down into a 4 step process:

  1. Identify Assumptions Informing Thoughts & Actions
  2. Check Assumptions for Accuracy & Validity
  3. View Ideas & Actions from Alternative Perspectives
  4. Take Informed Action

Identify Assumptions Informing Thoughts

Why are you thinking what or how you're thinking? Who started that? Where did that come from? We often think from being trained by society, parents, teachers, peers, fools and the guy on the corner. I do an absolutely annoying thing to people constantly---I ask them where or how they got that thought.

So someone says to me: "Everyone knows that men won't pay for dinner when you go out with them without you having to be sexual with them afterwards."

Who told you that?  No, really, who told you that?  Where did you learn that?  That reality doesn't exist for anyone besides-----your society, your parents, your teachers, your peers, your fools and the guy on your corner but is it the truth?  
Ignorance of one's own mind and where the detritus in it is the road to ignorance.

In Personal Power 2  Anthony Robbins teaches about being conscious of what we allow into our minds, questioning each nugget as carefully as we might examine the food we put into our bodies.

Check Assumptions for Accuracy & Validity

"Everyone knows that men won't pay for dinner when you go out with them without you having to be sexual with them afterwards."

First off, who is everyone?  Second, what kind of men?  Third, what about lunches and brunches, does that have quid pro quo attached too?  Fourth, what is your definition of sexual?

A statement or supposition can and sometimes has to be challenged for whether it's real or valid.  But maybe most importantly we should ask the person who says this---where they got that thought?  What experience have they personally had?  From that we might then go Oh, you've been asked to put out a lot for dinner, huh?  But that doesn't hold true for me and ten of my friends.  Maybe even 100 of my Facebook friends.  Maybe, just maybe we know a social strategy that you don't.  So we might have to check and see where you got this idea.  If all your dinner dates happen in your house or his house, then yes,, sex might be hinted at and since your bedroom is only ten feet away, all your dinner dates, that a man has bought dinner, you've ended up being sexual.

I might be able to challenge that on a date, if you have dinner at a restaurant at least 50 blocks from your house, at a reasonable time and somehow slip into the conversation that you'll be going home alone.  Suddenly your "everyone" doesn't hold water.

View Ideas & Actions from Alternative Perspective

Now you get all excited about doing this with me and extend yourself.  This is the most crucial part of Critical Thinking, you have to extend yourself mentally and emotionally.  It's okay.  You won't die.  People often feel like if they step away from their thought/opinion to anew thought, they will "die".  In fact what they're talking about dying is all of the structures that they've built around that thought.  The more abnormal or dysfunctional a thought the more difficult it is to examine and put aside to look at a new way of considering reality because it just might shift ten other things in your thought system,.

"Everyone knows that men won't pay for dinner when you go out with them without you having to be sexual with them afterwards."

A new perspective might be that there are plenty of men and women having dinner without sex afterwards and this might lead to more dinners and dates and it might also lead to a relationship.  Then our new question stem might be are you being sexual so fast to avoid or sabotage the second date?  We might then question the kinds of men who jump to your house with two bags of take out and a condom.  We might then question what boundaries would like?  We might then get into do you know what boundaries are, even with people you like?  We might then question where you got your dating skills and from whom?

What we'd be doing together is exploring alternative perspectives to arrive at new thoughts/answers.

Take Informed Action

Critical Thinking is ultimately mental masturbation is you don't do step four.  Without step four you're in a spiral or a factory (if you're doing it with a group) when there is no action.

"Everyone knows that men won't pay for dinner when you go out with them without you having to be sexual with them afterwards."

Again, with our comment we can then say, ok, I'm going to try out dinners at restaurants, I'm going to only have dates in other boroughs to avoid possible sexualization, I'm going to wear dirty underwear or keep my apartment messy or have a friend to meet after the first date---something, some interrupting new action that will example that we've examined the old thought and behavior and come up with some things to not only do but we're trying them out.  Most people think when they're talking about say politics that they're really doing something but most times they're just jabbering or posting online.  Joining your school board or community board is taking informed action to try and make change to new thoughts.  You might even end up running for office or joining some political group that will actively go out on the high seas and block/catch illegal whale hunters.

Most people avoid true Critical Thinking because it might require doing something.  Real Ideology examined and then Liberation to being and doing new things that have an effect upon your own world will require risk.  Therefore, true critical thinking is exampled in the by-product of risk.  Now you have followed through in a process that has really defined what critical thinking is and you can apply this to anything from waffles to world affairs.  The question is though: how many of your thoughts are flexible enough to be examined, reexamined and perhaps up ended to change?

Thank you,
Kyle Phoenix
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