Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Date of this Version



Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy (1998-1999) 10(3)

A publication of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Copyright 1999, Karen J. Thoms. Used by permission


Just what is a critical thinker? According to Richard Paul (1990), a critical thinker is someone who is able to think well and fair mindedly about his or her own beliefs and viewpoints as well as those which are diametrically opposed. The critical thinker does not just think about these beliefs and viewpoints, but explores and appreciates their adequacy, cohesion, and reasonableness. Attitudes and passions are included. To become a critical thinker is not to be the same person you are now, but only with better abilities; it is to become a different person (page iii).

Critical thinking is expected of students, but it does not automatically and quickly develop of itself. This skill must be developed, however; and it requires a great deal of effort on the part of teachers to help students learn to think critically. In order for students to develop these skills, teachers must learn to incorporate critical questioning into their classes. The responsibility for developing these skills then shifts from the student to the teacher as questioning becomes the guiding force. It is the teachers, not textbooks, that have the power to shape students' ability to think, which means that instructors must be prepared to lead the students toward critical thinking skills (Chalupa and Sormunen, 1995).