The College Board is author of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). On the College Board website, www.collegeboard.com, the following description of the SAT appears:
SAT Reasoning Test
“The SAT Reasoning Test is the nation’s most widely used admissions test among colleges and universities. It tests students’ knowledge of subjects that are necessary for college success: reading, writing, and mathematics. The SAT assesses the critical thinking skills students need for academic success in college—skills that students learned in high school.”
Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary defines critical thinking as “the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion”. Bearing that definition in mind, read what The Conference Board published in the report of the results of a detailed 2006 survey entitled Most Young People Entering the U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential for Success. The survey was conducted among 431 human resources professionals by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Its objective was to examine employers’ views on the readiness of new entrants to the United States workforce—recently-hired graduates from high schools, two-year colleges or technical schools, and four-year colleges. Following are excerpts from the report.
“The basics plus an array of applied and social skills—from critical thinking to collaboration to communications—defines workforce readiness in the 21st century,” said Ken Kay, President of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
“…over half (58 percent) of responding employers say critical thinking and problem solving skills are ‘very important’ for incoming high school graduates’ successful job performance, yet nearly three-quarters of respondents (70 percent) rated recently-hired high school graduates as deficient in critical thinking.”
“The future workforce is here, and it is ill-prepared,” the report concludes.
From a public service perspective, Senator David Boren of Oklahoma said, “As a Senator, my principal responsibilities are threefold: First, a Senator must do his best to reach logical policy conclusions about issues with which our nation is confronted. Second, a Senator should be able to effectively translate technical aspects of a position into language that will clearly communicate it to the public. Third, to be effective, a Senator must have the ability to persuade others to accept his policy conclusions. No aspect of my education was more useful in preparing me to meet these responsibilities than my training in speech and debate.” (Hunt, p14).
Debate is by far the best method for learning critical thinking. It requires students to read critically, analyze, and evaluate the evidence found through research. Then, they must organize their thoughts and present their findings in a logical and succinct way. Throughout this process, debaters must also think about the opposition’s arguments. What will they say? What facts support their side? How can I refute their arguments?
Debate also teaches students strategic thinking—how to be critical of opposition in a productive way using facts and logic—and learn to appreciate the other side by listening and being open-minded.
In this information age, critical thinking skill is especially important for higher learning and beyond. With the internet, a mountain of information is available at our fingertips, instantly. What to do we do with all that information? How can we tell good information from bad? What information, presented as fact, can truly be trusted? These are the questions students, lawyers, politicians, executives and all of us must address in our daily lives. The ability and willingness to critically evaluate information is a key factor that determines whether we will succeed in our jobs.
In addition, a critical thinker must be fair and open-minded. He or she must assess the reasons for and against a position or action and then make a decision based on facts, not on emotions or on what a friend said. It was almost fashionable during the years of the George W. Bush administration, especially during the last four years, for people to say, “Bush is stupid”. Many young students joined in and did not hesitate to blurt out the same phrase, demeaning the president. When asked why they thought he was stupid, very few could give a single good reason to defend their position because they were just repeating what others were saying without understanding the reasons. If they had looked at the evidence and evaluated it from both sides, they may have come to a different conclusion, and perhaps not. In either case, they would have been able to support their statement with intelligent reasons. They would have used the effort, intelligence, and open-mindedness that critical thinking requires.