Reflection on Critical Thinking, 21st Century Intellect

“Critical thinking” recently topped a Forbes list covering important job skills for the 21st century, suggesting employers are looking for candidates who “use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems” (Casserly, 2012).

As Socrates opined, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We must constantly re-examine our beliefs, and identify when remaining intellectually honest requires us to accept contrary opinions. We must represent a genuine curiosity for other’s belief systems.

We’re already highly collaborative today. Every day, more than 500 terabytes of data is sent to Facebook, with the processing of text, photos and videos (Facebook, 2012). Twitter’s microblogging platform receives 12 terabytes daily (Naone, 2010). Actively and passively, we’re creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day – 90 percent of the world’s data was created within the last couple of years. (IBM, 2013).

We’ve never been more connected. What are our prevailing barriers to generative discourse and more improved and involved problem-solving collaboration?

Andre Gide, a French writer, humanist and moralist, wrote: “believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.” While in the Marines, I learned to live by “Semper Fi,” a Latin phrase for “always faithful.” But today as a civilian and an intellectual, I’m learning to follow “Ubi Dubium Ibi Libertas,” or “where [there is] doubt, there [is] freedom.”

According to the Foundation For Critical Thinking, a non-profit organization promoting change in education and society: “Critical thinking is essential if we are to get to the root of our problems and develop reasonable solutions. After all, the quality of everything we do is determined by the quality of our thinking” (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2013).

With the right framework supporting the creative process and critical thinking, our future will benefit from more collaboration. Imagine 1 million people working on one problem. How might they form an idea or an understanding that could save a life or prevent a war?

Critical thinking is governed by its underlying motivations, according to a statement for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction:

“When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one’s groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually” (Scriven & Paul, 2013).

By acquiring knowledge about ourselves, thinking about our thinking, we can improve how we arrive at understandings, and what strategies we best employ to re-examine them.

We can learn to control our cognitive processes through metacognitive experiences. By acquiring knowledge about ourselves, thinking about our thinking, we can improve how we arrive at understandings, and what strategies we best employ to re-examine them.

I’ve had to self-regulate my learning. I know that I learn well by trying to explain something through writing or presentations, whether for others or myself. The creative process pushes me into deep explorations of ideas and conclusions. To uphold strong sense critical thinking, I must never let any creative work, essay or slideshow, define who I am.

Metacognition focuses on awareness of your thought processes, including attention, memory, language, reasoning, learning patterns and decision-making. Metacognition aims to recognize and evolve patterns of thought for more productive, efficient problem solving, such as dialogical or dialectical thinking, or methodological believing or doubt.

Through higher-level thinking, we examine our assumptions about alternative ideas, and how our frames of reference influence our judgments, cynicisms and fears.

It’s considering how we know what we know, or how we arrived at a certain idea, and how we might regulate our thinking processes for more meaningful explorations or conclusions. Through higher-level thinking, we examine our assumptions about alternative ideas, and how our frames of reference influence our judgments, cynicisms and fears.

While living in the Middle East, my frames of references and assumptions were routinely challenged. One evening, as a woman dressed in a black abiya strolled into a five-star restaurant, I deemed her unapproachable, oppressed, devoid of individuality.

But as she sat down with my wife and I, she folded her arms and legs with a confident swag. Her loose clothing had colorful, trendy stitching along its sleeves and collar. She hailed the waiter, ordered a Corona. She lit a cigarette. I found out that she had just earned a law degree in London, where people assumed she rode a camel, not the BMW parked outside.

Technology is offering us an ambient connectivity. Our existence is surrounded by “always on” conversations. Our communities are always with us, continuous and uninterrupted. We have an opportunity to rapidly share ideas across a diverse, global spectrum.

In 2004, George Siemens put forth a new learning model for this world:

“Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical” (2004).

Connectivism relies on a free flow of information and its synthesis. But it’s not enough to have content available – we also need to draw from experiences that might challenge prior understandings and fundamental beliefs.

In “Strong Sense Thinking,” Richard Paul suggests we must recognize a natural tendency to to defend our beliefs as if we’re defending our integrity:

“An un-philosophical mind is at best when routine methods, rules or procedures function well and there is no need to critically reconceptualize them in the light of a broad understanding of one’s framework for thinking. If one lacks philosophical insight into the underlying logic of those routines, rules or procedures, one lacks the ability to mentally step outside of them and conceive alternatives. As a result, the un-philosophical mind tends toward conformity to a system without grasping clearly what the system is, how it came to be thus, or how it might have been otherwise” (1993, pp. 437-438).

What’s more, the acquisition of critical thinking skills must remain void of egocentric or selfish motives. As participants of the human experience, each person’s capacity to understand and apply these skills is nourished by developing supportive networks.

Works Cited

Casserly, M. (2012, December 10). The 10 skills that will get you hired In 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Facebook. (2012, November 8). Under the hood: Scheduling MapReduce jobs more efficiently with Corona. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Foundation for Critical Thinking. (2013, 10 20). Our mission. Retrieved 10 20, 2013, from The Critical Thinking Community:

IBM. (2013, May 2). What is big data? Retrieved May 2, 2013, from
Naone, E. (2010, September 28). What Twitter Learns from All Those Tweets. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from MIT Technology Review:

Paul, R. (1993). Critical thinking: How to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Scriven, M., & Paul, R. (2013, October 20). Defining Critical Thinking. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from The Critical Thinking Community:

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

One thought on “Reflection on Critical Thinking, 21st Century Intellect

  1. Bernadette Scharpen says:

    This is such a thoughtful, well written piece that it was important to read several times. It makes me want to explore the cited works.

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