What do we mean by critical thinking?

You may come across the term ‘critical thinking’ in various educational contexts – from policy documents to advertisements. Many organizations say they aim at developing critical thinking in their audiences. 

The term is often just a buzz word (a term without any real meaning which sounds impressive and valuable). I am always skeptical of organizations which claim to improve students’ critical thinking abilities. Hence, it would be very reasonable if you were skeptical when Inquire says we aim at developing in students the ability to think critically.

By critical thinking, we mean something which sounds very simple – the ability to evaluate claims. These could be claims about truth in the real world, truth in mathematical worlds, value systems in ethics, and so on. 

Critical thinking inherently relies on how different disciplines justify claims. If you do not understand statistical arguments, you cannot evaluate a quantitative scientific claim. If you do not understand what a mathematical proof is, you cannot evaluate the truth of the claim the proof was presented for. If you have never constructed an argument to justify a conclusion in ethics, you are unlikely to be able to evaluate the consistency of an ethical system.

Hence, while critical thinking is a crucial part of what we do, we ground that critical thinking in inquiry. We believe that the only way to actually develop critical thinking abilities in students is by getting them to actually construct knowledge on their own – or by engaging in inquiry. In our workshops, courses and webinars, students are will learn tools that will enable them to think like mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, historians, and so on. They will engage in discovering and justifying claims across disciplines, along with evaluating claims they are presented. 

A short article like this ought not to end your skepticism of Inquire and our work. We can show you our badges and give you examples of our past work. However, every organization does that, each one sounding more impressive than the last. We at Inquire would like for you to experience our work before shedding your skepticism. Once you have done that, you can decide whether we are charlatans or an organization worth your time.

This blog post was written by Madhav Kaushish.

Madhav Kaushish got his PhD in Mathematics, with a focus on Mathematics Education, at The University of Arizona in 2021. His focus for his PhD was on students constructing mathematical theories, and his thesis was titled 'Theory Building in Geometry Education.' Before starting on his PhD, Madhav co-founded ThinQ (www.thinq.education), a non-profit which aims at developing critical thinking and inquiry abilities in students. Before that, he worked with Learn Today, the educational arm of India Today, developing curriculum and managing their online product development team. His first venture after graduating from Oberlin College in 2011 was founding a startup, SmarterGrades, an online, adaptive numeracy learning portal. Madhav writes on mathematical and other thinking abilities at madhavkaushish.substack.com.