Critical Thinking: A Benefit of Higher Education

  There are those today who believe there have always been degree programs with a fire service emphasis, but that is not the case. Many from my generation served in the forefront of bringing college education into the fire service. We followed the...


  There are those today who believe there have always been degree programs with a fire service emphasis, but that is not the case. Many from my generation served in the forefront of bringing college education into the fire service. We followed the rough-hewn path of the forward-thinking...


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There are those today who believe there have always been degree programs with a fire service emphasis, but that is not the case. Many from my generation served in the forefront of bringing college education into the fire service. We followed the rough-hewn path of the forward-thinking people who went before us.

Two of my true heroes in this pursuit are no longer with us. The late Dr. Leonard Marks, who was the fire chief in Bremerton, WA, and the late Martin Grimes, who arrived at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) from Great Britain via the Bermuda fire service, are examples of people whose lives were dedicated to the improvement of education in the fire service. They devoted much time and effort to improving the standing of education within the fire service. In today's fire service, a college education has become an expected part of the resume of anyone who hopes to attain a leadership position within a fire department.

Let me share some thoughts about my perception of the importance of one critical aspect of higher education to the future of our fire service. Far too many among us consider the gathering of a voluminous number of facts the purpose of going to college. People like this do not get the greatest possible benefit from their journey through the groves of academe. You do not need to attend college to gather a vast reservoir of job-related facts. This can be done by acquiring and reading books. You can also gather a wide array of facts from the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet does not teach you how to think. It just provides an almost endless source of things about which you should be thinking.

Thinking is an important aspect of the higher education world that is often overlooked. I am referring to the type of thinking that requires you to weigh and evaluate things. This type of thinking is called "critical thinking." We need to note that great value has been placed on the lessons of the "critical thinking" process that occurs within the world of higher education.

Problem solving and critical thinking lie at the heart of every aspect of life. How can a fire department plan and prepare for the future unless there are people charged with weighing and evaluating the varied range of alternatives that they may be called on to consider? There are those who use the term "thinking outside the box" when in reality they are referring to the concept of critical thinking. The identification and analysis of new approaches is truly the meat and potatoes of critical thinking. This requires the full range of skills that should be provided to students within the world of higher education.

It has been my experience that critical thinking can occur anytime a person works to judge, decide or solve a problem. In the higher education world we are all exposed to the thought that reading, writing, speaking and listening can all be done in two distinctly different ways. You can be critical of the works you are reading or you can simply accept things as facts just because you read them in a book or in a magazine article. This failure to challenge what is being presented exposes you to the charge of thinking uncritically. My professional associates and I believe critical thinking is crucial to becoming a reader who pays attention to the words in front of them and challenges the thoughts they are being asked to accept.

In What is Critical Thinking? (1906), William Graham Sumner stated, "critical thinking is a way of taking up the problems of life. Others have suggested the brain is a physical entity that must be nourished and exercised. It is suggested that only by the continual review and challenging of new sources of knowledge can we hope to develop our brain capacity and improve our thought processes.

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