A Model of Critical Thinking in Higher Education

In M. B. Paulsen (ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Springer. pp. 41-92 (2011)
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“Critical thinking in higher education” is a phrase that means many things to many people. It is a broad church. Does it mean a propensity for finding fault? Does it refer to an analytical method? Does it mean an ethical attitude or a disposition? Does it mean all of the above? Educating to develop critical intellectuals and the Marxist concept of critical consciousness are very different from the logician’s toolkit of finding fallacies in passages of text, or the practice of identifying and distinguishing valid from invalid syllogisms. Critical thinking in higher education can also encompass debates about critical pedagogy, i.e., political critiques of the role and function of education in society, critical feminist approaches to curriculum, issues related to what has become known as critical citizenship, or any other education-related topic that uses the appellation “critical”. Equally, it can, and usually does, refer to the importance and centrality of developing general skills in reasoning—skills that we hope all graduates possess. Yet, despite more than four decades of dedicated scholarly work “critical thinking” remains as elusive as ever. As a concept, it is, as Raymond Williams has noted, a ‘most difficult one’ (Williams, 1976, p. 74).

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Martin Davies
University of Melbourne


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