Cognitive Enablers, Critical Thinking, Discussions, Thinking & Learning

Why Can’t I just Teach Critical Thinking?

The core abstract cognitive enabler that most academics and businesses professionals bemoan the lack of is critical thinking. So why can’t we just teach students critical thinking?

Teaching students to think critically and critical thinking are not the same thing. Although thinking critically is a necessary part of critical thinking, students can learn to think critically without learning critical thinking. What is the difference? Critical thinking requires a person to be willing to self-correct based on evidence. A teacher simply cannot teach this. At least not with any of the generally accepted methods of teaching.

Why not?

Because the teacher is the teacher.

When anyone becomes a student with a desire to learn in a formal manner, learning is virtually always directed by a teacher. Teachers teach and students learn. So why not just teach students to self-correct based on evidence?

Because in a learning setting, students are always looking for the right answer – the answer that the teacher is looking for.

Students come to a teacher to learn something. This means that if my teacher tells me something that requires me to change my thinking, that is one of the purposes of having a teacher in the first place – to correct my thinking. This is not self-correction. This is a core part of teaching – teacher correction. Even if a teacher is trying to teach a student how to self-correct based on evidence, all they are really doing is helping the students find a flaw in the evidence that might lead the students down the wrong path.

This isn’t critical thinking. This is a critical analysis of the evidence. Learning critical analysis is a vital skill. Critical analysis of evidence is required for critical thinking, but it is not critical thinking. The change in the way the student thinks about a piece of evidence isn’t self-correction. It is teacher correction.

Self-correction relies on critical analysis of evidence and iterative argumentation with peers. As soon as a teacher opens his or her mouth the argument is settled. Not because of the evidence but because the teacher is the expert and the expert settles the question. I know that there are teachers that won’t settle an argument, but simply try to get the learner to critically examine the evidence in order to come to a rational decision based on the evidence. However, the mere presence of a teacher with subject knowledge means that the students will be trying to find the “right” answer. The answer that the teacher is looking for. Even if that is not the intention of the teacher at all, this is still the outcome.


Because this is what we have trained our students to do – find the right answer.

One thought on “Why Can’t I just Teach Critical Thinking?

  1. Merilyn Cockayne

    Thank you for this information. I think am in the process of seeking evidence to change my thinking around my approach to teaching. Should I be providing for critical analysis in my Year 6 classroom to prepare my students for critical thinking in the future or is it possible for me to create an environment for critical thinking. And what if their thinking is way off track because they are too young to have enough understanding of the evidence? What should I do to be a teacher in these times?

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