Critical Thinking

Why Schools Should Teach Critical Thinking (Part 1)

There was an article that made the rounds last December titled “Why Schools Shouldn’t Teach Critical Thinking.” I read it, and saw various rebuttals online as well as some interesting discussions. I wanted to say something, but couldn’t really frame my thoughts adequately and so dropped it. However, I’ve been reading Richard Paul’s work on critical thinking and over and over, I keep finding things that rebut the whole premise of Carl Hendrick’s article.

To be clear, Hendrick’s position in this article is “Instead of teaching generic critical-thinking skills, we ought to focus on subject-specific critical-thinking skills…” At first glance, he seems to be making a good case. Most of his position is based on the lack of transferability of skills.

The transfer problem is a real one, and Paul also addresses it often when he talks about teaching critical thinking skills. I will address this more in another post because I don’t have time right now.

Unfortunately, Hendrick focuses on one particular area of research to support his position, and that research isn’t about critical thinking skills. It’s about brain training games, which is not even remotely analogous.

For one thing, most brain training games don’t make claims about critical thinking skills. They tend to claim improvements in memory, focus, speed, multitasking, and problem solving. (The research, as Hendrick points out, doesn’t support those claims.) Critical thinking involve none of those things, and instead is entirely about metacognition.

By repeatedly claiming that critical thinking skills can’t transfer, Hendrick is making the claim that people can only think about their thinking in one domain. The very existence of the skeptical movement disproves this. Unfortunately, I’m in the middle of a very busy period at work and can’t write out a full rebuttal now, so here’s a preview of what I’ll be writing in my next posts:

  • From his examples, Hendrick appears to misunderstand what critical thinking actually means.
  • From his other examples, Hendrick appears to also misunderstand what schools’ purpose is.
  • Hendrick also showed a lack of critical thinking on his own by cherry-picking quotes out of context (the context of the entire body of research on the subject).
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Where to Begin Thinking Critically?

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Why Schools Should Teach Critical Thinking (Part 2)



Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.


  1. April 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm —

    The very existence of the skeptical movement disproves this.


    Actually, no. The “skeptical movement” is really badly named. It is actually the pro-science movement, and only operates in that respect.


    So the skeptical movement is extremely unskeptical about many things. Say the likelihood that most science published is wrong. And when they accept that they can’t move on to that many fields of modern science rest on flimsy foundations. And they really can’t accept that specialist scientists can be wrong in their field of speciality.


    The Skeptical movement reacts with fury if people doubt that CO2 is causing dangerous global warming, because to accept that means that many scientists are wrong. And doubting scientists is not what “the skeptical movement” does. You would hope that skeptics would accept that other people are skeptical of what you believe to be true — but they don’t. Because they are only skeptical of some things.


    They are also not skeptical about much of modern physics. The skeptic in me says that inventing “dark matter” and “dark energy” is not applying Ockam’s Razor. But our skeptical movement doesn’t seem to mind at all. So many of the world’s greatest minds can’t be wrong.


    So the skeptical movement is not a great advertisement for critical thinking. It’s actually an advertisement for a particular sort of thinking, that is no more fond of challenges than any other.

    • April 10, 2017 at 4:49 am —

      I’m sorry that I just don’t have time to have a full discussion with you, but I don’t want you to feel ignored so I’ll write something. When I said, “the skeptical movement” I was not referring to “the pro-science movement,” I was referring to the skeptical movement.

      You seem to be making some massive generalizations, none of which are reflected in the majority of “skeptical movement” material I have seen. (Podcasts, blogs, conferences, speaking events, websites etc.) There is a lot of talk in TSM about scientism and avoiding science-worship or uncritically accepting the words of favorite scientists. One of the most talked about papers that I have seen among skeptics is John P. A. Ioannidis’s “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” No joke, I think I have seen that come up more than any other.

      The Skeptical movement reacts with fury if people doubt that CO2 is causing dangerous global warming, because to accept that means that many scientists are wrong.

      No, many skeptics react in apparent fury because the research is so overwhelming across so many domains. There is not just one guy who decided to blame everything on CO2, but a huge majority of climate scientists who agree on this and continually present evidence.

      They are also not skeptical about much of modern physics. The skeptic in me says that inventing “dark matter” and “dark energy” is not applying Ockam’s Razor.

      I’m not sure which “skeptics” you are listening to, but I hear a whole lot of “we don’t know” when it comes to modern physics. I know almost nothing about it, but every time I’ve heard a scientist talk about dark matter and dark energy, they have literally said that those were words to describe that they didn’t know what it was. I can’t think of a better example of Occam’s Razor than “We don’t know what this is, so instead of inventing new hypotheses lets just say we don’t know and call it “dark matter/energy” and then try to figure it out.”

      If you think the skeptical movement is no more fond of challenges than any other, I would suggest you go to a skeptic’s conference and then a conspiracy-theorist’s conference (or mind and body conference, or devout religious meeting) and see who reacts more fondly to challenges.

      The people you’re talking about certainly exist, but generalizing the entire skeptical movement like this? Really?

    • April 17, 2017 at 12:50 pm —

      The skeptical movement is well aware of how much so called “published things about science” is wrong. A good example of this is one experiment with a fake person, trying to get a job at online science sites – when first tried they got 18 responses, two of them, embarrassingly from legit journals, asking for an additional interview, when even a cursory examination of the fake person’s fake credentials told every other legit journal that she was a fraud. In less than 20 years there where 208 such “online” science sources who referenced this person as someone real, or the fake paper she was supposed to have published, or, worse, listed her as either one of, or the “lead editor”. Such places “do not care” if what they publish is factual, as long as someone, either the author, or the public, pays them for it. But.. you own particular bug is a funny one. There are certain key players, some of them now dead, but, when all these, “We don’t think climate change is real, and here are our studies.”, first started, they where “front and center” on the side denying it. These people where also front and center of several paid think tanks, over the years, for corporations – places that publish papers and articles claiming scientific evidence, but which do so by sorting through other people’s work, to find things that seem to contradict the facts presented. This isn’t what real scientific work does. Sure, sometimes people do what are called “meta studies” where they try to parse out facts, but they tend to be clear that its not “testable”, because the things they are studying in those cases are stuff like human behavior, or other things where there is no clear means to a) determine the results, or b) ethical considerations, which make it impossible to experiment. Neither of these things are true with climate. You could do different modelling, but.. they people publishing for these think tanks “don’t do” modelling. You could do experiments on the gases involved, to try to show that the prior evidence is wrong, but, they don’t “do” chemical studies. They don’t do science at all. Their entire process of reaching conclusions comes from taking the data other people have collected, then poking holes in it (or trying to). They publish, and they publish what the companies that pay them **tell them** the results need to be.

      How can I be sure of this, because “two” of the biggest names, behind the scenes, as the leads, or lobbyists, and/or heads of these think tanks where the “same people” who creates the Tobacco companies campaign of misinformation, denying its link to cancer. The ***exact same people***. This isn’t a bunch of scientists, who go out and collect data, and run experiments, and test theory, who are running the “its not real” side of this – its people who do no science, no experiments, collect no data, and who are *solely* paid to do one, and one thing, only – publish papers, in which they present what the corporations want to be true, by cherry picking things from “someone elses” actual scientific data.

      When *any* of these people, who claim to be studying things, but reaching the complete opposite conclusions, from 90% of the rest of the scientific community, especially climate experts, etc., actually *do* real science on the subject, then they are no better, or more reliable, a source of information about what is really going on then Dr. Oz is at whether or not the latest diet he peddles in women’s magazines will “fix your metabolism”, or “cure your diabetes”. They are being *paid* to reach the conclusions they reach. Every single one of them either works for the energy companies, or one of the think tanks that “specialize” in publishing what someone pays them to publish, or, when they are not, they have as much expertise on the subject, based on their specialties, and actual knowledge climate, as Dr. Oz, as a cardiologist, has about neurochemistry (and, therefor, has jack all qualifications to say who has their facts right).

      This is why skeptics don’t like them, and more than a zoo keeper would enjoy listening to a car mechanic pontificate on how to properly car for their new collection of exotic birds.

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