The Lost Art of Critical Thought


Who cares if you know all of Chickering’s seven vectors? That’s not critical thinking – Dr. Vasti Torres

Humans are in a rare position on this planet — we are one of the few mammals that have the ability to use our brains to for creativity, thought, conversation, and pretty much anything to make this world a better place. Most of us have the capacity to do just about everything our bodies were meant to do: move, breathe, touch, feel, taste and smell. Our brains allow us to do all of this and go beyond – to write, to read and to even calculate complicated math problems.

But where did we lose our ability to think critically? When did that stop being a thing? When did we allow ourselves to become machines on input and regurgitation of information? When did we become passively accepting of ideas?

To provide you with some context of this post and the quote below the image, the Idea Generator session at the American College Personnel Association (ACPA)’s annual convention brought together a panel of scholars from our field (Dr. Patty Perillo, Donna Lee, Dr. Robert Reason, Dr. Joan Hirt, Dr. Vasti Torres, and Dr. Jill Carnaghi)and were asked a questions by the “provocateur” , Dr.John Dugan based on the topic:  #frompreptopractice: Narrowing the Gap Between What We Learn and What We Do.  The conversation was lively and had some great aspects/conversations/ opinions from the panel (and those who tapped the original panelists out). And it is within this panel that the lack of critical thought conversation was born.

Thinking back to my graduate school days (2006-2008) I was challenged to think: I had some amazing faculty (Dr. Lynn Gangone, Dr. Brian Bridges, Dr. Billy Molasso to name a few) who made it a point to not just memorize theorists but to really see the college student in the essence of a theory — how do they act, why do act this way, who are today’s college student? Classes were 99% discussion based, and from what I gather from my law school friends, were taught mostly like law school classes. My faculty gave us the opportunity to express our thoughts and to challenge our peers. Even exams and papers made us look at theories in a different way, such that they would be applicable in the actual, practical work that we would eventually do as practitioners.

My faculty, were able to bridge the gap, which had to do with the fact that my program was a more “professional” program: all of us worked during the day and attended class at night, allowing us to really be professionals and to apply the work that we did in class to our jobs (yes, most of us had full-time jobs and went to grad school). I appreciate everything my graduate school did to prepare me for my future as a professional in student affairs, but my real takeaways were to always think and (sometimes more importantly)listen critically about the way we do things and why we do things.

There are times when I get frustrated by people’s lack of ability to analyze situations and their ability to express their thoughts. On the flip side, I think as a student affairs community, we are scared of these thinkers because their thoughts are different than our own and we don’t know how to handle it. I know when I see something come across my screen or am in a conversation with someone who has this “whole other ballpark” idea, I shut up and listen. I am far more interested in a unique thought than something that is affirming to someone else’s. Show me something new.

As a student affairs community, I encourage all of us to listen critically to these other thoughts and ideas. I think we need to step up and be more vulnerable and comfortable with expressing our ideas. We keep doing the same things, which doesn’t quite fit with our profession — as it is ever evolving. From the way we teach our grad students to the seasoned senior student affairs officer , we are never too old to think critically. I encourage all of us to read, to listen, to be informed from outside of our profession and perhaps you might be inspired to think about something differently.

Final Thought/Question: If we are unable to think critically for ourselves (and express them) how are we supposed to encourage and teach this to our students?

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March 2015
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