Humanist Perspectives: issue 151: A New Approach to Critical Thinking in Education

A New Approach to
Critical Thinking in Education
by William Broderick

Paul Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, writes in his book Affirmations (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 2004):

The methods of critical inquiry used so effectively in science need to be extended to all areas of human interest. Beliefs should be treated as hypotheses and be tested by evidence, logical coherence, and experimental consequences. All claims to knowledge should be open to revision in the light of inquiry. As a result there is a progressive growth of knowledge.

Skeptical inquiry is essential for the development of human knowledge. It represents a historic tradition in science, philosophy, and learning. We may distinguish skeptical inquiry, with emphasis on inquiry, from classical skepticism, which was apt to be totally negative, even nihilistic. This form of skepticism is a new skepticism, for it is positive and constructive; its principles are essential for the development of knowledge about nature and human behavior. Moreover, its methods are relevant to the solution of ethical, political, and social problems.

If you wanted to instill such critical thinking skills in young people, how would you go about it?

A group of teachers, academics, parents and other concerned individuals as well as organizations, think they may have the answer. Formed in British Columbia in 1993 under the name Critical Thinking Consortium, they have been hard at work developing teaching materials, testing them, and getting them accepted into the BC education system over the last eleven years.

Garfield Gini-Newman, curriculum consultant with York Region District School Board and instructor at York University and University of Toronto (OISE), in his paper Why Join the Critical Thinking Consortium? (aimed at faculties of education) writes:

Few educators deny the importance of critical, inquiring minds in their students. The capacity for effective critical thinking underlies student success in all areas of schooling and beyond. Whether the focus is literacy, numeracy, or empathy, urban diversity, gender studies, or developing an appreciation for the arts, critical thinking enhances a student’s ability to understand and apply complex ideas and to respond in meaningful and innovative ways.

Despite its importance, critical thinking remains one of the most poorly understood and inadequately taught elements in elementary and secondary schools. In too many classes, transmissive teaching remains the dominant means of covering the curriculum… in those classes in which the curriculum is framed around critical challenges, too seldom are the intellectual ‘tools’ for critical thinking explicitly taught to ensure student success.

The consortium attempts to address this inadequate teaching of the elements of critical thinking. Its members are dedicated to providing to young people everywhere, through the standard K-12 curriculum, the intellectual, critical thinking tools to better meet the challenges of the modern world.

The Humanist Association of Canada, among others, is pleased to lend its support to the work of this consortium and the critical thinking concept it has developed. The association urges all humanists and their friends to publicize the program to their school boards, through their school councils, or any other way they can, and help to expand the use of the critical thinking concept in every school district where humanists are located.

William Broderick is a retired Federal public servant and is on the Board of the Humanist Association of Canada. He lives in Belleville, Ontario.

For more information, visit or contact Catriona Misfeldt, coordinator Critical Thinking Consortium 604-668-6072