Value Systems And Critical Thinking
This is the winning Social Work entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Brendan McDaid, a final year student at Ulster University. Brendan was nominated by his lecturer Denise MacDermott.
Critically evaluate possible tensions, conflicts and collusions within and between your personal and professional value system as related to social work practice
This assignment shall critically discuss how personal and professional values can come into conflict in modern day social work practice. In order to do this, the difference between personal and professional values will be considered, as well as relevant theories in order to gain a better understanding of how these values can often conflict. Once this has been established, two examples will be used to demonstrate varying ways in which a practitioner’s values can be challenged, with appropriate links also being made to critical reflection and emotional intelligence.
Values can be somewhat problematic to define as it is a term that can be used vaguely and can also have a variety of different meanings. In fact Timms (1983:107), in his study of social work values, quotes 180 different definitions of the term. Perhaps this is indicative of the very nature of values, particularly personal values; they can be comprised of ideologies, attitudes, preferences, beliefs, desires, opinions and therefore differ for every individual. It has been accepted that a value describes what an individual considers worthy (Barndard, Horner & Wild, 2008:29) and it is something we give high priority or importance to when making choices (Beckett & Maynard, 2005: 7). Particularly relevant regarding social work practice, values often signify the moral imperative in the decision making process as they ‘determine what a person thinks he ought to do’ while also representing ‘the general standards and ideals by which we judge our own and others’ conduct’ (CCETSW, 1976:14). What is unique about personal values in comparison to professional values is that they can often change and alter as the individual develops, through life experience, societal influences, political awareness and as their understanding of people develops. Professional values, on the other hand, are not personal to the individual; they are a formal guide social workers must adhere to which aim to create a professional culture that improves practice and attempts to draw boundaries around what is deemed acceptable conduct (Dominelli, 2004:63). Embodied in codes of ethics, these professional values and principles compel the social worker to commit to practice in a manner that safeguards the service users’ rights to privacy, self-determination and to be treated with dignity and respect (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). The British Association for Social Workers (BASW) code of ethics comprises of five core basic values to which social workers must be committed. These are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence (BASW, 2002:2). More specific to Northern Ireland, the NISCC code of ethics consists of six professional values which guide social work practice and detail the standards of conduct practitioners and students alike are expected to meet (NISCC, 2003). The NISCC code of ethics importantly encourages social workers to examine their own practice by placing a responsibility on social workers to be accountable for the quality of their work and ensure they continually improve their skills and knowledge base (NISCC, 2003:6).
It is generally accepted that the traditional values of social work were greatly influenced by the legacy of Biesteck (1961) (Dominelli, 2004:63). Therefore, when discussing values in social work practice and potential conflicts that arise, it is important to consider Biesteck’s principles and how theories on values and ethics have developed as a result. Biesteck’s 7 casework principles were individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality. These principles are still very much pertinent in modern social work practice, however in terms of theory, possibly the more significant Biesteck principles are individualisation and service user self-determination (Banks, 2006:32).
Having briefly outlined Biesteck’s influence, the two oppositional theorists regarding values and ethics shall now be detailed for the purposes of this discussion. Kantian or deontological ethics, also known as the duty based approach, focuses on the fundamental dignity each and every person possesses as a rational human being, who should be treated “never solely as a means but always also as an end.” (Kant, 1964:96) Kant felt that the individual person is worthy of respect simply because he or she is a person, and this has been intrinsically linked to the principle that is credited as being the foundation of social work ethics and moral thinking (Plant, 1970); ‘respect for persons’. The Kantian theory focuses on the rights and self-determination of each individual service user and promotes carrying out ones duty to that service user regardless of the outcome (Banks, 2006:35) or consequences for society as a whole. By contrast, the utilitarian theory, also known as the consequence based approach, advocates promoting the public good or the well-being of the society in general over the needs of any particular individual; in other words, ‘the greatest good to the greatest number.’ (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:39) According to Banks (2006), ‘the basic idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is that which produces the greatest balance of good over evil’ (Banks, 2006:35). Advocates of the utilitarian approach feel that it is more realistic in terms of modern practitioners; they are employed by agencies, work within procedural constraints and consider the consequences of their decisions. As the relevant theories regarding values have been detailed, this piece shall now consider the application of both personal and professional values in terms of modern day social work practice.
Cormier, Nurius and Osborn state that “when personal values of helpers are consistent with professional standards of conduct, helpers are more likely to interact genuinely and credibly with clients and other professionals” (Cormier, Nurius & Osborn, 2009:32). Therefore, in theory, personal and professional values will ideally complement each other in social work. However, in practice, the reality is that personal and professional values often conflict. Going back to the idea of values representing the moral imperative, the difficulty and conflict that often comes with being a social worker is that what you think you ought to do may not be the same as what you want to do, what is in your interest to do or what in fact you actually do. (CCETSW, 1976:14) Therefore, social workers are regularly confronted with decisions that represent an ethical dilemma, which is said to exist when “acting on one moral conviction means behaving contrary to another or when adhering to one value means abandoning another.” (Blumenfield & Lowe, 1987:48) Such is the nature of social work, these conflicts and dilemmas are not limited to practitioners and have also become apparent to me as a student during lectures and interactions with service users, which shall now be critically discussed.
During our ethics and values lecture, I identified respect of persons as a core value of mine, and my reason for this is you never know what an individual’s story is or what they may have been through. The right to self-determination for a service-user is also a value that I attribute worth to on a personal level; it was one of the fundamental principles that made me want to become a social worker. Therefore, my personal values are more in line with the Kantian approach to ethics in that they are concerned with the individual circumstances and decisions of the service user. However, when listening to a service user (hereafter X) speak about his experience of living in a care home, I identified a potential conflict in my personal and professional values regarding looked after children. According to current policy and procedure for looked after children, regardless of the history, individual circumstances or indeed the wishes of the service user they are required to leave the care home at the age of 18 and live independently. For many social workers, this policy may be acceptable on a professional level as it is in keeping with the NISCC code of ethics for ‘promoting independence of service user while protecting them from harm.’ (NISCC, 2003:3) X also detailed how, many years previously, he had been sent to live with a foster family against his wishes and seemingly without being consulted on the matter. Again, in a strictly professional sense this may be correct in keeping with the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ under article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998), which is considered one of the core areas of social work practice (White, 2004:29). However, I believe this policy regarding looked after children is framed in a way that is very much utilitarian and is in contrast to my personal values and ‘occupational self-concept’ (Payne, 2006) of social work practice.
I am aware that being a practitioner brings with it a function regarding social control, resource rationing and issues relating to fair distribution of welfare (Banks, 2006:35), meaning there are procedures a practitioner must adhere to. However, one of the key roles I will have to fulfil as a practitioner is to support individuals to represent their needs, views and circumstances to achieve greater independence (DHSSPS, 2003). In order to do this, a practitioner must advocate on behalf of the service user. X explained that in his own personal experience and the experience of many of his peers, their needs and views were not represented as they were not mentally prepared for independent living. He elaborated that they did not wish to leave the care home and as a result he was faced with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and anxiety. My immediate response when listening to his experiences was to question whether, in following this procedure, practitioners are indeed promoting independence or in fact negligent in their duty to advocate for and protect the service user from harm? Furthermore, it raises doubts as to whether self-determination within the current welfare system regarding looked after children actually exists, or whether it is simply defined persuasively to justify decisions against service user’s real interests that may go against their will. (McDermott, 1975).
Having considered what X had said, my initial feeling was that in order to effectively fulfil the key role of supporting looked after children and representing their needs, a more Kantian approach is necessary. Listening to X, it could be claimed looked after children are being categorised, stigmatised and treated as such, as opposed to being judged as a visible human being whose autonomy is respected. (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:38) Therefore, my immediate response as a practitioner would be to identify with Banks’ (2001) view proposing social workers have a responsibility to strive to change policy that supports what they feel to be a form of oppression (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011).
X’s input has been extremely beneficial to me in terms of my social work education as it gave me a valuable insight into the conflicting and challenging nature of social work. Regardless of personal values, I fully appreciate the need for professionalism in social work as practitioners are required to follow policy that is in place and are bound by the NISCC code of ethics, which is “theframework or screen through which…personal world views must be drawn to determine the acceptability in social work practice” (Spano & Koenig, 2007:3). To be considered a competent practitioner, it is imperative I am aware of my emotions and am capable of managing them in a setting where my personal and professional values conflict. Emotional intelligence is particularly important in these circumstances as it enables the practitioner to “…(be) able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations” (Goleman, 1996:34). As child protection is the area of social work practice I am most likely to be employed in (Crossing Borders, 2001:14), it is important that when tuning in to the thoughts and feelings of future service users (Shulman, 2009) I am able to critically reflect on what I learned from X’s emotions regarding his experience and my own emotions having empathised with what he went through. This enables me to “(return) to the experience, attending to feelings connected to the experience and also re-evaluate the experience by recognising potential implications and outcomes.” (Boud & Knights, 1996:26)
X’s experience has made me aware of the use of authority in terms of social work and how it can be perceived by the service user. This will be extremely important in terms of my future practice as I am now conscious of the power dynamic that can exist from the service user’s perspective, meaning I can attempt to negate it. This demonstrates moral sensitivity, and I believe my views and concerns expressed above regarding X’s experience also illustrate elements of moral judgement and motivation. Although in practice it may become challenging, I feel my personality traits and values indicate that I also possess the moral character to stand by my convictions, meaning I now feel capable of moral behaviour (Banks, 2006:158) when practicing. Being aware of this power vacuum should also help ensure that my future practice is anti-oppressive, as it is “based on an understanding of how concepts of power, oppression and inequality determine personal and structural relations.” (Dalrymple & Burke, 2003:48) Furthermore, X’s experience has enabled me to explore, resolve and reflect upon conflicts between my personal and professional values before I had to face this dilemma in a professional capacity. This forced me to consider my future practice, and in doing so I concluded that I may perhaps be a professional practitioner, however I aim to maintain some elements of the committed/radical approach. Although my initial thought regarding current policy for looked after children was that it needed to be challenged, through the discussion that followed X’s experience and reflecting on how my feelings have evolved regarding the matter, I now appreciate that as a practitioner I am bound by the NISCC codes of ethics and policy and procedure that is in place. However, I continue to identify with Bank’s view that it is important to hold on to your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133).
The second issue that shall now be considered involved working with a service user, as opposed to listening to their experiences in a learning environment. I currently work as a support worker in a hostel for homeless men. My role requires me to work with and provide support for individuals who have a history of alcohol abuse and who have experienced a breakdown in family relationships. As part of my role I was also required to work with an individual (hereafter Y) who has a history of committing sexual offences, and it immediately became apparent to me that this was going to conflict with my personal values and beliefs regarding forms of abuse. Rightly or wrongly, at that time I felt that sexual abuse was a particularly despicable crime and that I may find it difficult to engage with and provide effective support to a perpetrator of this type of act. I was also concerned that my feelings regarding sexual abuse would be an obstacle in terms of my ability to empathise with Y. Therefore, I was faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to help Y, thus going against my views regarding abuse and oppression, or choosing not to work with Y, which in itself is a form of oppression as I would be devaluing the service user as a member of a group socially configured as inferior. (Gray & Wedd, 2010:160)
As a student social worker, I was aware that in choosing not to work with Y, my decision would conflict with the NISCC code of ethics requiring social workers to protect the rights and promote the interests of service users while striving to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users (NISCC, 2003:1-2). Therefore, if I was unable to manage my personal values and beliefs regarding this matter it would raise questions regarding my competence for practice. Furthermore, one of the key roles for social work practice is having to prepare for and work with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities to assess their needs and circumstances (DHSSPS, 2003). In keeping with this key role, I chose to accept Y for who he was and show him the respect and dignity of every human being (Banks, 2006: 33) as all individuals, regardless of their behaviours, are worthy of the profession’s skills and knowledge in order to improve their social functioning and quality of life (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). In order to do this, however, I would need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which is what we already know about ourselves, what we learn when encountering new experiences and what we learn through contact with others (Trevithick, 2005:43), in order to effectively manage my feelings and ensure I remained anti-oppressive by avoiding ‘othering’ (Gray, M. & Wedd, S, 2010: 161) Y in our interactions.
According to Butler, Knott and Scragg, “understanding feelings and emotions is essential, if we are to understand the complicated, often messy, emotionally charged situations which social workers are faced with.” (Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott, C., Scraff, T, 2007). This is imperative as “failure to manage feelings compromises the balance between thought, feeling and action….what is required, instead, is the ability to harness all emotion as sources of information and to seek to promote a positive climate within which best decisions are likely to be made.” (Morrisson, 2007:5) By becoming emotionally aware of and critically reflecting on my emotions regarding sexual abuse, I now appreciate that perhaps my initial views regarding working with sex offenders were influenced by societal influences, the media, a negative perception and the stigma that is attached to perpetrators of sexual abuse. This enabled me to view the service user holistically and understand that he too may have encountered a history of victimisation himself (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011)
I feel this experience will have a positive impact on my future practice as it enabled me to develop my emotional intelligence and become more self-aware regarding my own emotions in this value conflict, meaning I am able to manage my feelings, understand them and also understand how they may potentially influence my future behaviour and practice (Bruce, 2013). Banks feels that practitioners only begin to realise the limitations of their self-awareness when presented with problems that trigger reactions inappropriate to the situation (Banks, 2006:157) and before I encountered Y, I was unaware of what my emotions were regarding sex offenders. However, as a result of this process I feel I have an increased self-awareness in terms of biases and attitudes that may have been previously went undiscovered (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011:1). This is beneficial in terms of my self-development and enabled me to successfully manage and reflect on this complex ethical dilemma, which is a practice foci for one of the key social work roles; demonstrate and be responsible for professional competence in social work practice. (DHSSPS, 2003) In terms of future practice, if I were faced with a similar situation I would refer to the previously mentioned Biesteck principles, with particular consideration given to controlled emotional involvement, acceptance and adopting a non-judgemental attitude, to ensure I am able to empathise effectively, while also providing the support that the service user needs.
In conclusion, when considering the points and literature above, it is pertinently clear that maintaining congruence between personal and professional values can be quite challenging, even for the more experienced practitioner. As modern social work practice moves away from the Kantian approach to a more bureaucratic or utilitarian approach, this will no doubt lead to further ethical dilemmas for practitioners to manage. Therefore, it is essential that practitioners develop and maintain practice that is critically reflective, emotionally intelligent and self-aware. Although practitioners are bound by professional values and codes of ethics, it is as equally important to possess a ‘moral impulse’ (Bauman, 1993) and maintain your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133). By maintaining one’s own values, as well as the changing ethical priorities of the profession, it enables the practitioner to have a healthy anticipation of incongruence between personal and professional values. The result of this will be a social worker who is able to manage their own values, as well as understanding and applying the ethics and values of social work, which should be the benchmark for any capable practitioner.
Banks, S. (2006). Ethics and Values in Social Work (3rd Edition), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Barnard, A., Horner, N. and Wild, J. (eds) (2008) The Value Base of Social Work and Social Care: An Active Learning Handbook. Maidenhead. McGraw-Hill.
BASW, 2002, Code of Ethics. Available at http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_112315-7.pdf. Last accessed 14/12/14.
Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell.
Beckett, C. and Maynard, A. (2005) Values & Ethics in social work: an introduction. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Sage Publications Ltd.
Blumenfield, S. and Lowe, J,I. (1987) A template for analysing ethical dilemmas in discharge planning. In Health and Social Work, NASW, Vol.12, No.1, Winter 1987.
Boud, D. and Knights, S. (1996). Course Design for Reflective Practice, Aldershot: Ashgate
Bruce, L. (2013). Reflective Practice For Social Workers: A Handbook For Developing Professional Confidence. McGraw-Hill International
Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott , C., Scragg , T. (2007),ReflectivePractice in Social Work , Exeter, Learning Matters
CCETSW (1976) Paper 13, Social Work Curriculum Study. London: CCETSW
Conmartin, E.B., & Gonzales-Prendes, A.A. (2011). Dissonance between personal and professional values: Resolution of an ethical dilemma. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 8(2), 5-1-5-14.
Cormier, S., Nurius, P. S., & Osborn, C. J. (2009). Interviewing and change strategies for helpers: Fundamental skills and cognitive-behavioral interventions (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Crossing Borders: resource pack for social workers.
Available at http://www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk. Last accessed 14/12/14.
Dalrymple, J. & Burke, B. (2003), Anti-Oppressive Practice: Social Care and the Law, Berkshire, Open University Press.
DHSSPS (2003) Northern Ireland Framework Specification for the Degree in Social Work. Available at http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/dhssps_sociawork_doc.pdf. Last accessed 02/01/15
Dominelli, L. (2004). Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession, United Kingdom: Polity Press
Gray, M. and Webb, S. (2010) Ethics and value perspectives in social work. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmiillan
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McDermott, F. (1975) ‘Against the Persuasive Definition of Self-Determination’, in F.McDermott (ed.), Self-Determination in Social Work, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 118-37
Morrison, T. (2007). Emotional intelligence, emotion and social work: Context, characteristics, complications and contribution. British Journal of Social Work, 37(2), 245-263.
Payne, M. (2006). What is professional social work? (2nd ed.) Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.
Plant, R. (1970) Social and Moral Theory in Casework, London, Routeledge & Kegan Paul.
Shulman, L (2009). 6th ed. The Skills of Helping Individuals, families, Groups and Communities. United States of Amerca:Brooks/Cole
Spano, R., & Koenig, T. (2007). What is sacred when personal and professional values collide? Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 4(3).
Available at :http://www.socialworker.com/jswve/content/view/69/54/ Last accessed 18/12/14.
Trevithick, P. (2005). Social Work Skills a practice handbook (Second Edition), Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education
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Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and there are several different definitions which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.
Critical thinking was described by Richard W. Paul as a movement in two waves (1994). The "first wave" of critical thinking is often referred to as a 'critical analysis' that is clear, rational thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Barry K. Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged. The U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the "intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."
In the term critical thinking, the word critical, (Grk. κριτικός = kritikos = "critic") derives from the word critic and implies a critique; it identifies the intellectual capacity and the means "of judging", "of judgement", "for judging", and of being "able to discern".
Traditionally, critical thinking has been variously defined as:
- "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion"
- "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"
- "reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do"
- "purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based"
- "includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs"
- the skill and propensity to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (McPeck, 1981)
- disciplined, self-directed thinking which exemplifies the perfection of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking (Paul, 1989, p. 214)
- thinking about one's thinking in a manner designed to organize and clarify, raise the efficiency of, and recognize errors and biases in one's own thinking. Critical thinking is not 'hard' thinking nor is it directed at solving problems (other than 'improving' one's own thinking). Critical thinking is inward-directed with the intent of maximizing the rationality of the thinker. One does not use critical thinking to solve problems—one uses critical thinking to improve one's process of thinking.
- "an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation"
- the ability to think clearly about what to do or what to believe.
Contemporary critical thinking scholars have expanded these traditional definitions to include qualities, concepts, and processes such as creativity, imagination, discovery, reflection, empathy, connecting knowing, feminist theory, subjectivity, ambiguity, and inconclusiveness. Some definitions of critical thinking exclude these subjective practices.
Logic and rationality
Main article: Logic and rationality
The ability to reason logically is a fundamental skill of rational agents, hence the study of the form of correct argumentation is relevant to the study of critical thinking.
"First wave" logical thinking consisted of understanding the connections between two concepts or points in thought. It followed a philosophy where the thinker was removed from the train of thought and the connections and the analysis of the connect was devoid of any bias of the thinker. Kerry Walters describes this ideology in his essay Beyond Logicism in Critical Thinking, "A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective. This model of thinking has become so entrenched in conventional academic wisdom that many educators accept it as canon" (Walters, 1994, p. 1). The adoption of these principals parallel themselves with the increasing reliance on quantitative understanding of the world.
In the ‘second wave’ of critical thinking, as defined by Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994, p. 1 ), many authors moved away from the logocentric mode of critical thinking that the ‘first wave’ privileged, especially in institutions of higher learning. Walters summarizes logicism as "the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking" (1994, p. 1).
"A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective." (Walters, 1994, p. 1) As the ‘second wave’ took hold, scholars began to take a more inclusive view of what constituted as critical thinking. Rationality and logic are still widely accepted in many circles as the primary examples of critical thinking.
Deduction, Abduction and Induction
Main article: logical reasoning
There are three types of logical reasoning Informally, two kinds of logical reasoning can be distinguished in addition to formal deduction: induction and abduction.e.g. X is human and all humans have a face so X has a face.
- Induction is drawing a conclusion from a pattern that is guaranteed by the strictness of the structure to which it applies.
- Abduction is drawing a conclusion using a heuristic which is likely but not certain given some foreknowledge.
Critical thinking and rationality
Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994) argues that rationality demands more than just logical or traditional methods of problem solving and analysis or what he calls the "calculus of justification" but also considers "cognitive acts such as imagination, conceptual creativity, intuition and insight" (p. 63). These "functions" are focused on discovery, on more abstract processes instead of linear, rules-based approaches to problem solving. The linear and non-sequential mind must both be engaged in the rationalmind.
The ability to critically analyze an argument – to dissect structure and components, thesis and reasons – is important. But so is the ability to be flexible and consider non-traditional alternatives and perspectives. These complementary functions are what allow for critical thinking a practice encompassing imagination and intuition in cooperation with traditional modes of deductive inquiry.
The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition. According to Reynolds (2011), an individual or group engaged in a strong way of critical thinking gives due consideration to establish for instance:
- Evidence through reality
- Context skills to isolate the problem from context
- Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
- Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
- Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand
In addition to possessing strong critical-thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
- Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
- Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
- Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
- Recognize unstated assumptions and values
- Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
- Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
- Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
- Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
- Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
- Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
- Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life
"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends."
Habits or traits of mind
The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.
According to a definition analysis by Kompf & Bond (2001), critical thinking involves problem solving, decision making, metacognition, rationality, rational thinking, reasoning, knowledge, intelligence and also a moral component such as reflective thinking. Critical thinkers therefore need to have reached a level of maturity in their development, possess a certain attitude as well as a set of taught skills.
Edward M. Glaser proposed that the ability to think critically involves three elements:
- An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences
- Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning
- Some skill in applying those methods.
Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.
The Critical Thinking project at Human Science Lab, London, is involved in scientific study of all major educational system in prevalence today to assess how the systems are working to promote or impede critical thinking.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.
The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. A measure of critical thinking dispositions is the California Measure of Mental Motivation and the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory.
John Dewey is one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit the individual learner, the community, and the entire democracy.
Critical thinking is significant in academics due to being significant in learning. Critical thinking is significant in the learning process of internalization, in the construction of basic ideas, principles, and theories inherent in content. And critical thinking is significant in the learning process of application, whereby those ideas, principles, and theories are implemented effectively as they become relevant in learners' lives.
Each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles. The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject-specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
Historically, teaching of critical thinking focused only on logical procedures such as formal and informal logic. This emphasized to students that good thinking is equivalent to logical thinking. However, a second wave of critical thinking, urges educators to value conventional techniques, meanwhile expanding what it means to be a critical thinker. In 1994, Kerry Walters compiled a conglomeration of sources surpassing this logical restriction to include many different authors’ research regarding connected knowing, empathy, gender-sensitive ideals, collaboration, world views, intellectual autonomy, morality and enlightenment. These concepts invite students to incorporate their own perspectives and experiences into their thinking.
In the English and Welsh school systems, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCRexam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full Advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There used to also be an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills.
From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance has also been offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification.
OCRexam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
In Qatar, critical thinking was offered by AL-Bairaq which is an outreach, non-traditional educational program that targets high school students and focuses on a curriculum based on STEM fields. The idea behind AL-Bairaq is to offer high school students the opportunity to connect with the research environment in the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Faculty members train and mentor the students and help develop and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.[not in citation given]
In 1995, a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education was undertaken. The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. It concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they have tended to aim at facts and concepts utilizing lowest levels of cognition, rather than developing intellect or values.
In a more recent meta-analysis, researchers reviewed 341 quasi- or true-experimental studies, all of which used some form of standardized critical thinking measure to assess the outcome variable. The authors describe the various methodological approaches and attempt to categorize the differing assessment tools, which include standardized tests (and second-source measures), tests developed by teachers, tests developed by researchers, and tests developed by teachers who also serve the role as the researcher. The results emphasized the need for exposing students to real-world problems and the importance in encouraging open dialogue within a supportive environment. Effective strategies for teaching critical thinking are thought to be possible in a wide variety of educational settings.
Importance in academia
Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
 However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.
Critical thinking skills can be used to help nurses during the assessment process. Through the use of critical thinking, nurses can question, evaluate, and reconstruct the nursing care process by challenging the established theory and practice. Critical thinking skills can help nurses problem solve, reflect, and make a conclusive decision about the current situation they face. Critical thinking creates "new possibilities for the development of the nursing knowledge." Due to the sociocultural, environmental, and political issues that are affecting healthcare delivery, it would be helpful to embody new techniques in nursing. Nurses can also engage their critical thinking skills through the Socratic method of dialogue and reflection. This practice standard is even part of some regulatory organizations such as the College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006). It requires nurses to engage in Reflective Practice and keep records of this continued professional development for possible review by the College.
Critical thinking is also considered important for human rights education for toleration. The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO in 1995 affirms that "education for tolerance could aim at countering factors that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and could help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning."
Critical thinking is used as a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process.
Critical thinking in computer-mediated communication
The advent and rising popularity of online courses has prompted some to ask if computer-mediated communication (CMC) promotes, hinders, or has no effect on the amount and quality of critical thinking in a course (relative to face-to-face communication). There is some evidence to suggest a fourth, more nuanced possibility: that CMC may promote some aspects of critical thinking but hinder others. For example, Guiller et al. (2008) found that, relative to face-to-face discourse, online discourse featured more justifications, while face-to-face discourse featured more instances of students expanding on what others had said. The increase in justifications may be due to the asynchronous nature of online discussions, while the increase in expanding comments may be due to the spontaneity of ‘real time’ discussion. Newman et al. (1995) showed similar differential effects. They found that while CMC boasted more important statements and linking of ideas, it lacked novelty. The authors suggest that this may be due to difficulties participating in a brainstorming-style activity in an asynchronous environment. Rather, the asynchrony may promote users to put forth “considered, thought out contributions.”
Researchers assessing critical thinking in online discussion forums often employ a technique called Content Analysis, where the text of online discourse (or the transcription of face-to-face discourse) is systematically coded for different kinds of statements relating to critical thinking. For example, a statement might be coded as “Discuss ambiguities to clear them up” or “Welcoming outside knowledge” as positive indicators of critical thinking. Conversely, statements reflecting poor critical thinking may be labeled as “Sticking to prejudice or assumptions” or “Squashing attempts to bring in outside knowledge.” The frequency of these codes in CMC and face-to-face discourse can be compared to draw conclusions about the quality of critical thinking.
Searching for evidence of critical thinking in discourse has roots in a definition of critical thinking put forth by Kuhn (1991), which places more emphasis on the social nature of discussion and knowledge construction. There is limited research on the role of social experience in critical thinking development, but there is some evidence to suggest it is an important factor. For example, research has shown that 3- to 4-year-old children can discern, to some extent, the differential creditability and expertise of individuals. Further evidence for the impact of social experience on the development of critical thinking skills comes from work that found that 6- to 7-year-olds from China have similar levels of skepticism to 10- and 11-year-olds in the United States. If the development of critical thinking skills was solely due to maturation, it is unlikely we would see such dramatic differences across cultures.
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