Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Classroom is a Two-way Street

A class is starting in a fitness center. The instructor comes in and begins with warm up exercises, then moves on to the planned lesson. A very well planned set of exercises and activities, with workouts for each part of the body. It is well researched, and as the session progresses, the instructor keeps telling the students the importance and benefits of each of the movements.  The instructor demonstrates each exercise, one activity flowing into another seamlessly.  The students are expected to follow the demonstrated directions and move along with the instructor. If it was a YouTube video, it would have been a perfect demonstration  of a well-rounded fitness class.

However, someone observing this particular class would have noticed that a large number of the students were following the motions listlessly.  Some were surreptitiously looking at their watches, others would stop every now and then and just sit or stand.  Some were catching each other’s eyes and sending discrete messages. The instructor trundled along with the class, perhaps oblivious to the students’ apathy, perhaps not.

So what did happen in that class?  Why did that class not click?  It was not that the students were not interested. They had paid through their teeth to be in that fitness class and had joined of their own free will. They were not distracted teenagers. All were mature adults. Yet, when the class was over, most gave a sigh of relief.

The reality was that there was a mismatch between what the instructor was doing and what the students were capable of.  This was a class of predominantly senior citizens as well as people who were there because they had ailments that needed some form of flexibility training. Most of them were not very agile or nimble in their movements. The instructor’s flexibility level was much higher, and that is what the class was based on. Since the sequence was based on an assumption of a much higher level of flexibility and stamina, the students faltered.

This is a common enough situation in a regular class in a school or college.  We teachers often write beautiful lesson plans, but when we proudly and enthusiastically take them into class, we may sometimes find that the students are not interested. When this happens, we often blame students for this kind of situation --- they are disinterested, today’s children just want to be spoon fed, they are too entitled, they have no respect for education, and so on. I have faced such situations and made such judgements myself often enough. Over the years, however, as I learned to look at my lessons critically, both good and bad, one realization came up again and again --- the need for teachers to be able to place themselves in their students age, knowledge and ability levels while creating and delivering lessons.

To give an example, in one of my Sociology classes I used the example of Tiananmen Square protests of China. The students looked blank.  Though it was an interactive class, the students were not responding. Finally I asked them if they were aware of what happened on that fateful day in Tiananmen Square. More blank looks. I ranted and raved at their lack of general knowledge, their lack of interest in reading newspapers and so on. Suddenly, one small voice said, ‘when did this happen’?  I said “1989.  In which class were you then?” Turned out they were all one or two years old then, not even in school! I was absolutely ashamed of my lack of perspective. Because it was such a general knowledge issue in my time, I assumed it should be so with my students too. I had forgotten that my students were of a different generation, and hence may not be familiar with issues of a different time frame.

Taking another example, I was observing a teacher’s 8th grade history class. The teacher warned me before the class started that these students were quite problematic and disinterested. I sat at the back of the class while the teacher started her lesson on Hitler and the holocaust. The topic she was teaching was how Hitler used propaganda to influence his people. The teacher had a list of propaganda techniques that Hitler used and started explaining each one of them. Students were indeed distracted and seemed disinterested.  On a hunch, I went to the front of the class, and with due apologies to the teacher for interrupting, asked the students whether they knew what propaganda meant.  Eighty percent of the class did not! We then had a session on what propaganda was, with examples from music and media they could relate to. The class was very engaged, with none of the previous listlessness. At the end of the class there was a feedback session with the teacher. The teacher held forth about the students’ lack of vocabulary. As she was ranting, I asked her whether she herself had known what the word propaganda meant when she was their age.  She said she was not sure. As I persisted and she  reflected on this, she realized that she really understood the term well when she was in college and studying International Relations!

I have used these two examples to illustrate how we teachers often make assumptions about students’ levels based on our own levels. Our own knowledge and abilities are however the outcome of our age and our longer years of education, compared to our students. We sometimes forget that certain words, terms or practices could become so familiar to us over the years that we start taking them for granted. For the students, however, they may be totally new or that they may lack the expertise we have to interpret these forms of knowledge.

As I think through the story of the fitness instructor and connect it to my own and others’ classes that have not gone well, three things become clear. First, , the need for teachers to be in tune with the students response and modify our lessons accordingly. The history teacher and the fitness instructor just went on with their lesson, oblivious to the fact that the students were not responding. Second, that we can sometimes get very attached to a good lesson we have created. When that does not go well, we often tend to blame the students for it, without reflecting on whether we ourselves had overlooked something.  If that small voice that day had not asked me when the Tiananmen Square protests happened, I would probably have continued to blame those students for not reading the papers and for not having knowledge about something that happened when they were babies!  Third, when we plan our lessons, we start from our own knowledge base. We often forget that our student’s knowledge base is much less. And since they are from a different time frame, their interpretation of an idea may be very different from mine. One thing I have learned to do now is that when I use words and terms, I first ask myself ---- did I know what this word meant when I was that age? Would I need to explain that word  first before proceeding with the lesson? How would my students interpret this idea? And I find that when I keep my students perspective in mind while planning classes, connecting with them becomes much easier.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Why a Debate is Not Always Critical Thinking

There is often a misunderstanding that teaching critical thinking means doing a lot of debates in class. While a debate is a great tool, it may not always be a great critical thinking methodology unless carefully designed.

A debate is a formal discussion where opposing sides of an issue or a topic are presented in the form of an argument. Each side needs to make a presentation that would convince the listeners that their perspective on the issue is the right one. The best strategy to do so is to present only those points in their argument that favour their position and downplay those that go against it. They may also need to put down their opponents in whichever way they can --- selectively picking problems in the opponents’ arguments while downplaying or rejecting their good points, using sarcasm, as well as various logical fallacies to suit their purpose.

This goes against the core idea of critical thinking. As already explained in previous posts, a critical thinker is one who is able to appreciate multiple perspectives of an issue and then come up with one’s own perspective, taking into consideration all opposing views on it.
Let us take a hypothetical situation of the government wanting to cut down a part of a forested park in a city and constructing a much needed metro station there. There would be many different perspectives on it, both for and against, each one quite valid. There would also be a lot of interest groups for or against the proposal. Each of these perspectives and interest groups would have its own argument on why the park should or should not be used for the purpose, and each would do their best to downplay their opposing perspective. A lasting solution would require the decision makers to objectively engage with the entire debate --- to listen to the arguments from each group, identify assumptions, vested interests and fallacies of each of the sides, before coming up with their verdict which takes into consideration each sides’ concerns. This is what critical thinking is all about. It is not just presenting one’s own argument in a debate.

Using a debate as a methodology to teach critical thinking requires the teacher to go beyond getting students to merely present their own sides. Students will need to understand that their argument is only one part of the entire process --- it just presents one perspective. The debate, to be fruitful, will need students to carefully analyze all perspectives, evaluate one against the other and finally come up with a balanced conclusion. Students would need to exercise their skills of questioning and appreciate other people’s viewpoints even though they are different from their own. Finally they will need to come up with a solution or a decision that would not be biased and one sided. This is where they can be encouraged to think out of the box and create unique but balanced solutions. It is this solution that they will need to justify. This is how they will learn to think critically.

I am not for a single moment asking you not to use debates in the classroom. They are a good way to get students into analytic thinking. The point I am trying to make through this post is that just getting students to present one side of an issue may make them get into the habit of only looking at their own viewpoint and justifying that viewpoint, creating a one sided view of situations.  They may learn to analyze an idea, but not think about it critically.  The skills of evaluation and generation of new ideas will not happen. For critical thinking to be practiced, the debate will need to be followed with students going beyond their own presentations, understanding and appreciating other’s points and finally coming up with a balanced position on the issue.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Critical Thinking in our Regular Classes

A question often asked is whether critical thinking should be taught as a stand-alone course or as part of regular courses. Both are possible. Continuing from the previous post,  Critical Thinking and Campbell's Soup  no matter what form the course takes, the content is important to set the context. Content can be the syllabus material for a subject or it could even be a theme with multi-disciplinary topics. Content is what the students will latch on to in order to learn and exercise the skills. The skills in turn enable a deeper learning of the content material.

 A stand-alone course will require the teacher to find interesting content material to hone in the skills. There are a lot of textbooks available, but the content there is very American or British --- not very relatable to Indian students. The biggest problem with most of these books however is that the content is composed of disparate resources, paragraphs, excerpts from articles and exercises, with nothing to bind them.  Education research has by now established the need of contextual content to hone in deeper learning. The more familiar student are with the content and its context, the better will they be able to critically engage with it.

In my stand alone courses, I find it helpful to set a theme to provide context and to hold the content together. The theme may either be a topic, such as inequality, gender, food, sports, movies, or whatever else students would find interesting. No matter what the theme, I pick debates on the things that students usually take for granted (e.g. Is the family meal an overrated idea, Do millennials have a different idea of patriotism/ Independence and Republic Days from their parents and grandparents, and so on.)  Stories, songs, movies, poems, videos are used to explore multiple perspectives on these ideas.  Students are given the opportunity to critically analyze and evaluate arguments on myriad unquestioned opinions, as well as hone in their own reasoning skills with the understanding that at the end of the session, they would have examined that topic at a deeper level and with new eyes.

A theme could also be something as mundane but unexplored as their own thinking. One of my most popular courses has been one that I call Critique Your Thinking, where students explore their own unquestioned ideas on various topics. The theme in this course is Changing Lenses. Though the topics used in this course are diverse and change each day, students know that they will be required to explore that topic from different perspectives and question their own thinking on it. They also know that at the end of the session, they will be required to see how their ideas have changed when they have looked at the same issue with multiple lenses.

When done as a part of a regular course, the content is already available. Teachers just need to find ways to impart skills of analysis and evaluation into their lessons.  I have seen from experience that when these skills are woven into lessons, the class too becomes interesting, learning becomes active, students are better engaged and thus easier to manage.

Overarching the entire critical thinking endeavour are three basic skills of analysis, evaluation and creation of new ideas. These work together to sharpen three abilities that mark a critical thinker --- ability to ask the right questions, ability to identify and appreciate perspectives other than one’s own and lastly, the ability to objectively critique one’s own thinking.

In a previous post, Interpreting Critical Thinking Pedagogically, I talked of sound reasoning skills as a bedrock of critical thinking. Reasoning an important skill that is needed in all subjects --- to make sense of the content material, to analyze and evaluate complex information, and to justify and communicate knowledge in an exam, in a presentation or in a job interview.  Every time a student is able to articulate a viewpoint, either their own or some else’s in a coherent manner and justify its internal logic, reasoning skills are used. For example, when students are articulating why Karl Marx makes sense in a particular situation, using a series of relevant reasons, they are making a reasoned argument. Every time a student is thinking in terms of reasons leading to a conclusion or justifying a conclusion, he/she is making an argument. No matter what subject we are teaching, this is a skill set that is needed to understand complex content. Evaluating the Marxist argument they have made on a particular situation with a Feminist one and deciding which one fits better in this context, they are engaging in critical thinking.

Most of the time, however, we teachers do not see reasoning as a part of our content teaching. We use a lot of questions in our tests and assignments that say ‘Give reasons for .....’. This is not always the same as using reasoning skills. For example, a very common sociology question in India is ‘What are the reasons for the breakdown of the joint family’. Teachers list out the reasons in their classes and students regurgitate them in the exam. No critical thinking is happening here. However, suppose the question gets changed to ‘Evaluate the statement that the breakdown of joint families has been advantageous  for women. Give reasons why you say so’. This question has a lot of scope for reasoning skills to be exercised. Students think through the changes in family systems and then come up with their arguments for both sides of the debate. They then evaluate both sides in the context of the question and come up with their balanced opinion. Most of the analysis and evaluation is done by the students, with the teacher facilitating their thinking.  This is a critical thinking exercise which can be conducted as a class discussion or as a graded assignment.

Such thinking sessions are however much more time consuming and needs a lot more planning than a regular lecture. Teachers therefore often do not even venture into such sessions, even if they want to, in the interest of time.  My contention is that not all classes need to have this kind of methodology. Besides, for conceptual clarity, nothing beats a clearly articulated lecture. In fact, a lecture too is making an argument that is being communicated to students. The point I am making here is that once there is conceptual clarity, thinking questions can be used to help students hone in reasoning skills as a part of regular classes. This also helps contextualize class material with the outside world. For example, when I do these reasoning oriented joint family sessions, students usually go home, talk to their parents and grandparents about their experiences and end up having a much more in-depth understanding of the concepts. They have also learned to critically engage with the topic.

I would like to end this post by reiterating that clear reasoning is the first step in honing in critical thinking skills of analysis, evaluation and generation of new ideas. These skills can be easily taught as a part of our regular classes using the content matter we are teaching. This is because no matter what the methodology we use, teaching critical thinking requires a context to enable the skill to be understood and practiced. The context is already provided to us in our syllabus. We just need to use the right teaching strategies to hone in skills using that content.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Critical Thinking and Campbell’s Soup

Critical Thinking has become somewhat of a trend these days. Institutions feel they should incorporate it in their curriculum. Many people have jumped into the bandwagon to teach it. Since this is a fairly recent incumbent, very few people have systematically studied it. The easiest way to get a sense of critical thinking to get one of the numerous books available on the topic and follow the exercises therein. One may also do one of the free MOOC courses available to get some kind of certification. I have done both and gone beyond. Embarking on a regimen of research, reading and actual teaching for about 20 years,  I have identified two major trends and their connections which I first articulated in a previous post, Interpreting Critical Thinking Pedagogically . I can now safely say that a lot of these popular short term critical thinking courses and textbooks see critical thinking in a very narrow sense --- only in terms of reasoning skills. Educational institutions and universities where critical thinking is a part of the regular curriculum use the much broader definition of critical thinking.  In this post, I will elaborate a little more on those thoughts, especially on looking at critical thinking only as a skill of good reasoning.
A lot of the concepts connecting critical thinking and reasoning have come from philosophy, emerging from a combination of theories of logic and rationalism. The ideas of Aristotle, the father of the Science of Logic, has its genesis in ancient Greece. This was a society governed by the assembly and law courts, where debates and argument took center stage. It is this same tradition that is now the center stage of many critical thinking books and courses. There is also a strong influence on mathematical precision, evolving from thinkers like Descartes, who saw truth and reason as universal, logical and mathematical. Emerging from such traditions, a strong influence of binary thinking can be seen in conceptualizing critical thinking in this manner --- there is only one right way of thinking, one logic and if you do not follow that pattern, you are not thinking correctly. Critical is often taken literally --- understanding the principles of reasoning that will help one to find flaws in other people’s arguments. This can be seen from the kind of exercises that are there in these books and short term courses for students to practice and be assessed on.
The key purpose of Critical thinking, as per this viewpoint, is the application of reason to evaluate claims and make sound arguments. Teaching is through exercises, often using multiple choice questions, where the right answer needs to be ticked. The assumption is that practicing such exercises over and over will hone in those skills. I have included two typical examples of exercises to illustrate my point.

Example 1:
Some world leaders and scientists believe that there is no such thing as global warming. They defend this by pointing out that Antarctic temperatures in the 1990s were the lowest ever and that the Antarctic ice sheet is thickening enough in the middle to create a 0.12 mm drop in sea levels each year. However, this is the worst kind of selectivity. The overall temperature trend is up and the edge of the ice sheet is melting by enough to cause a 0.16 mm rise in sea level each year. The net effect is clearly a rise in sea levels --- one of the most accurate indications of a warming planet.
Which of the following is the best statement of the main conclusion of the above argument?
A The belief about global warming of some world leaders and scientists is puzzling.
B Some world leaders and scientists should accept that sea levels are rising.
C Some world leaders and scientists are poorly informed about global warming.
D The rise in sea levels is evidence that the planet is getting warmer.
E The belief of some world leaders and scientists is based upon very selective evidence.

Example 2:
Research suggests that contrary to popular belief, the firms that are making most money tend to have the least happy workers. Therefore, firms that deliberately make their workers unhappy can expect a rise in profits,
Which of the following, if true, identifies the flaw in the argument above?
a.   It assumes workers are unhappy because of their work.
b.   It assume that unhappiness causes a rise in profits
c.    It assumes that workers do not get a share of the high profits
d.   It assumes that successful managers have to be hard on their staff.

Though there are several problems in running an entire course using this kind of exercises, I will only mention four here that seems most relevant to me for this post:
Firstly, if someone is able to use the principles of reasoning and make a flawless and logically strong argument, how valid the claim is does not matter. It is all about how well you have been able to make a convincing argument on it.
Secondly, I have seen entire critical thinking programmes based on the chapters of a single book. The teacher goes through the chapters and get students to answer questions given in the book. The course is basically understanding the concepts in the book and applying them in exercises. As per a lot of well-respected education frameworks, including Blooms Taxonomy, this does not even fall into the higher order thinking skills of analysis, evaluation and creation of new ideas, which together bring about critical thinking.
 Thirdly, though all the choices do fit, there is supposed to be one right answer. In a lot of ways, this makes thinking very tunnelled. The real world and actual human behaviour on which these skills will be applied on is a multi-facetted one, with myriad perspectives interacting, interconnecting and meshing with each other.  Hence, a one correct way of thinking view is problematic.
Fourthly, there is no common topic or theme holding these exercises together. The assumption is that the context does not matter. As long as students are able to understand the key concepts, in these two cases, the connection between arguments and reasons, they will be able to apply it everywhere.
Over the last few years there has been a lot of research on the importance of context for teaching and learning. Context is needed for comprehension, to be able to analyse at depth, to be able to evaluate ideas and to generate new ideas. Without content and domain material to latch skills on, learning stays superficial. This is why critical thinking needs to go much beyond mere reasoning of diverse un-connected practice material.
A speaker at a conference many years ago compared her lecture to a can of Campbell’s soup --- a very tightly condensed version of her research and the book that came out of it. I find that analogy very useful in explaining the distinction between teaching critical thinking as a one standalone reasoning oriented course and one that is embedded within the contexts of a subject. The soup that is inside a Campbell condensed soup can is compressed into a solid mass. The mass slides out of the can into a pan, a can of water is mixed into it, the mixture is heated, and soup is ready. If that is the only way a person has made soup, she/he knows how to reconstitute a can of soup, but not how to make a soup. If the context changes, that is, he/she is given an empty pot, some vegetables, flour, milk, and herbs, chances are she will not know how to proceed. The danger is that if this is the only kind of soup the person has had, she may not even realize what the real thing is.
Reasoning based critical thinking courses are popular because they can be condensed into short term courses. They are also easy to assess and grade. Unfortunately, when a skill is taught out of context, the skill is short lived. When taught as a part of a theme or specific content, the context kicks in, bringing in better comprehension, better retention and a wider perspective.
For most educators, critical thinking is much more broad based and contextual, starting with the basic understanding that knowledge is not absolute. As I have articulated in the previous post, Stages of Knowing - Journey from Non Critical to a Critical Thinker, reasoning is only one part of critical thinking. Teaching critical thinking is a much more complex process.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Stages of Knowing --- The Journey from a Non-critical to a Critical Thinker

While trying to articulate the journey from a non-critical to a critical thinker for this post, I stumbled across these three stages, so well said by Dr. William Perry and so well quoted by John Chaffee. I find John Chaffee’s view of critical thinking very close to mine, and I use his book a lot. I am therefore presenting this post very much as how he said it in his book. I have myself travelled as well as come across all the three stages in my life and career --- this I will talk about in subsequent posts. This is a longish post, but I think, worth your patience.

Stages of knowing:  

From: Thinking Critically by John Chaffee (Chapter: Constructing Knowledge)

The road to becoming a critical thinker involves passing through different Stages of Knowing in order to achieve an effective understanding of the world. These stages, ranging from simple to complex, characterize people’s thinking and the way they understand their world. A critical thinker is a person who has progressed through all of the stages to achieve a sophisticated understanding of the nature of knowledge. This framework is based on the work of Harvard psychologist Dr. William Perry (Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme), who used in-depth research to create a developmental model of human thought. This is a condensed three-stage version of Perry’s framework.

An individual may be at different stages simultaneously, depending on the subject or area of experience. For example, a person may be at an advanced stage in one area of life (academic work) but at a less sophisticated stage in another area (romantic relationships or conception of morality). In general, however, people tend to operate predominantly within one stage in most areas of their lives.

Stage 1: The Garden of Eden
People in this stage tend to see the world as black and white, right and wrong. Right and wrong is usually determined by authorities who tell them so.  Authority figures can be parents, teachers, religious heads, even the peer group and media. Knowledge is clear, certain, and absolute and is provided by authorities. People in this stage feel that a person’s role is to learn and accept information from authorities without question or criticism. Anyone who disagrees with the authorities must be wrong. There is no possibility of compromise or negotiation. Even authority figures themselves can be in this stage.

When people in this stage come across contradictory opinion, they deal with this contradiction by maintaining the view that my authorities know more than your authorities.

Once we are able to explain why we chose to believe one authority over another, we have moved from stage 1 thinking to stage 2.  Two key conditions are however needed to move to stage 2: emotional willingness and the cognitive ability to be open minded.

Stage 2: Anything Goes
Once a person starts questioning authority figures, the tendency is often to go the opposite way --- that everything is right.  There is a feeling that no one really “knows” what is true or right. All beliefs are of equal value, and there is no way to determine whether one belief makes more sense than another belief. This also leads to a sense of confusion as to what to believe.

Stage 3: Thinking Critically
Stage 3 happens when a person is able to synthesise the opposing perspectives of Stage 1 and Stage 2.  He/she realizes that some viewpoints are better than other viewpoints, not because authorities say so but because there are compelling reasons to support these viewpoints.  At the same time, they are open minded towards other viewpoints, especially those that disagree with them.  They recognize that there are often a number of legitimate perspectives on complex issues, and they accept the validity of these perspectives to the extent that they are supported by persuasive reasons and evidence.  Stage 3 thinkers approach all issues by trying to understand all of the different viewpoints on the issue, evaluating the reasons that support each of these viewpoints, and then coming to their own thoughtful conclusion. When asked, they can explain the rationale for their viewpoint, but they also respect differing viewpoints that are supported by legitimate reasons, even though they feel their viewpoint makes more sense. In addition, Stage 3 thinkers maintain an open mind, always willing to consider new evidence that might convince them to modify or even change their position.  

But while people in this stage are actively open to different perspectives, they also commit themselves to definite points of view and are confident in explaining the reasons and evidence that have led them to their conclusions. Being open-minded is not the same thing as being intellectually wishy-washy. In addition to having clearly defined views, Stage 3 thinkers are always willing to listen to people who disagree with them. In fact, they actively seek out opposing viewpoints because they know that this is the only way to achieve the clearest, most insightful, most firmly grounded understanding. They recognize that their views may evolve over time as they learn more.

To me, this is what Critical Thinking is all about --- exploring every perspective, evaluating the arguments and supporting reasons for each, and developing our own informed conclusions that we are prepared to modify, or change based on new information or better insight.  This is a skill that is needed for solving problems and for making sound decisions. Even more importantly, these skills help social interactions --- while dealing with students, parents, colleagues, clients, friends and family.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Interpreting Critical Thinking Pedagogically

As I started reading up on and working with critical thinking skills as an educator, I realized that critical thinking is a very nebulous concept. Different people construe it in different ways.  Now, after years of  researching  and teaching these sets of skills, I can identify two major strands in interpreting this ‘topic’ pedagogically.
One strand equates critical thinking predominantly with how to improve one’s reasoning skills. This is the predominant way of teaching critical thinking, as can be seen from the numerous courses and books on the subject. The focus in these courses and books is on how to improve one’s reasoning.  The key areas of interest are how to make a reasoned argument and how to assess arguments.  A lot of emphasis is placed on how to critique someone’s reasoning --  how to find flaws and fallacies in an argument, how to pick out underlying assumptions in an argument, how to identify ways that would strengthen or weaken an argument, and so on. The methodology is predominantly exercise based, where students are exposed to numerous arguments to hone-in their reasoning skills. Many of these exercises are so structured that there can be only one right answer. Such courses lend themselves very well to large classes, online courses and self-study books.
The other strand takes a much broader perspective. It is based on the view that critical thinking goes beyond mere reasoning skills, and hence looking only at reasoning and arguments is very limiting. Critical thinking involves examining our own thought process, questioning our own thinking, appreciating multiple perspectives and adopting a balanced view of the world. This strand looks at critical thinking as a disposition, as a way of life.  
I would not call these strands mutually exclusive. The first strand focuses on the cognitive processes which form the base of critical thinking. The second strand connects critical thinking to the world around us --- brings in context to hone in those processes learned. Doing one without the other is futile. Learning how to detect a flawed argument is a basic critical thinking skill. It is, however, just a steppingstone and not the destination.  In our professional, social and personal lives, we will find that not all arguments are flawed. We may encounter a flawlessly made argument, however the perspective taken by that person on the issue discussed may be totally opposite to ours. Most of the time, solving major problems or taking crucial decisions depend on negotiating between these myriad perspectives. Critical thinking helps us evaluate these myriad arguments so as to arrive at our own informed decision in an issue or problem.  It then goes full circle and gives us the skill to communicate our own informed judgement to others convincingly.  These are the core skills of any thinking person and any good leader. Thinking in a well-rounded and balanced manner is the ultimate purpose of critical thinking.  
It is this combined view of critical thinking that this blog is about.  It is about how we as teachers can get our students to think for themselves --- analyze and create arguments, find connections, evaluate the perspectives they represent, synthesize ideas and then form their own independent opinion. These are skills imperative to problem solving and making sound decisions. That are also skills that help interpersonal relations --- skills that any good leader or team player needs to have.