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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Critical thinking is not a random practice. You must be able to use such tools as logic — the formal type or, as is frequently the case, a more informal style of thinking (informal, but organized). To do this properly, you must be trained to employ broad intellectual skills such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness. You must be able to analyze and evaluate information from a wide range of sources. Once this has been done, you should then be able to synthesize new approaches to the task at hand. A specific method for performing these functions is used within the higher education community. It is called "Bloom's Taxonomy" and was first presented in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom. Here they are in ascending order of application:

Knowledge

Comprehension

Application

Analysis

Synthesis

Evaluation

Quite simply, you begin by coming to know something. You then move on to the point where you understand the topic. The next step involves analyzing the information to gather a deeper understanding of it. Once you know it, you must be able to apply it to the world at large. You can then analyze its impact on your issues. At the upper level you must be able to synthesize (create) new uses for the knowledge you have mastered.

There are a number of tasks you and I must understand in order to apply them to our personal and professional lives. First and foremost, we must be able to recognize and identify problems. So much of what we do in life revolves around the identification and solving of problems that to ignore the development of these skills condemns us to a mediocre, second-class existence. We also must be able to challenge the norms in our lives and work to identify new and better ways of doing things when appropriate. The ability to think critically helps us to understand how to prioritize the tasks we must accomplish to solve a problem. To do this we must develop skills in research and data acquisition. Within the higher education setting, the gathering and analysis of information forms the basis of our efforts. We must look at what exists to determine what must be learned. If we are to think and write properly, we must know how to comprehend the current state of affairs to decide how to create new and unique combinations of information.

You must also develop an understanding of the relationships that exist between and among various schools of thinking and human endeavor. Once you have developed the necessary critical-thinking skills, you will be able to draw comparisons and make new assumptions that will help you solve unique problems. As you become involved in the process of developing new and distinct thoughts on how to solve your problems, you may even discover that 10 other people have developed 10 different ways of solving those problems.

At this point, you can broaden your experience by testing these unique solutions against your own. It should be possible for you to draw new conclusions and create new generalizations that can advance the overall level of knowledge within your field. In An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking (1941), Edward M. Glaser states that critical thinking involves "a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends."

There are a number of ways in which you can improve your thinking. Become the person who raises important questions and problems. Be the person who stimulates the thought process by forming your inquiries clearly and precisely. In order to assist you in developing your skills, let me offer the following, which can be gained from a solid foundation within the higher education world. You will develop the ability to gather and assess relevant information. In your courses you will be taught to use abstract ideas and interpret them effectively for your associates.

If your education has developed properly, you will become that person in your group who comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions. You will also be well-trained in the testing of these against relevant criteria and standards. That will tie your new knowledge to your existing mental data base. People will come to recognize you as the person who possess the ability to think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing the available options as need be. You will be able to assist others by testing their assumptions, implications and practical consequences. Be a sounding board. Become known as the person off of whom people can bounce their ideas and receive honest feedback. After a trip through the world of higher education, you will hopefully be the person who communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems. You will know to ask questions.