Wonderful path traveled by critical thinkers calls to all across campus

Dr. Richard McCallum - Vice President for academic affairs

Dr. Richard McCallum – Vice President for academic affairs

A wonderful path across our campus calls to us everyday. When you hear the alluring invitation to travel this route, be prepared to spend time in concentrated thought. The requisite effort will be similar to a sprint down the football field. The required discipline will exceed the rigor of a marathon training schedule.

You will not complete the distance of this daily journey without a self-motivated, enduring aspiration to excel. A comprehensive set of attitudes are necessary as standard equipment for this trip and like a turbo charged V-8 engine with a bad spark plug, one malfunctioning “attitude” will jeopardize your efficiency and performance. The north and south avenues are covered with unexpected stops and deep potholes. The east and west boulevards are known for their steep hills and sharp curves. A blueprint for this route advises us to proceed with caution while developing cognitive habits and specific mental skills. At first glance, a jet stream of resistance makes this road appear difficult, undesirable and uninviting. It is, therefore, frequently less traveled. A large sign clearly marks the start line: “This is the path traveled by a critical thinker.”

Long after your graduation diploma has been framed and the commencement music has faded from your memory, you will find the quality of your life enriched if you take the opportunity while you are a student to develop the habits of an inquiring mind. The knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations of reflective thinking can be learned and used not only during your days on campus but also throughout the years of your adult life. Critical thinking attributes will enhance your personal decision making process. This thought process, moreover, will be the expected norm as you pursue your professional career.

What is critical thinking? Do a Google search and you will discover multiple explanations. While definitions abound, an emerging consensus suggests each individual is capable of generating three major levels of thought. This range of intensity, sometimes referred to as an order of thought hierarchy or taxonomy, can be visually depicted as a continuum that moves from left to right with low, medium and high benchmarks. Some authors, however, prefer to illustrate these three levels of intensity as a ladder or a Venn diagram. Regardless of the visual image, these varying ranges of thought are available as we process information and make daily decisions.

The low range, generally, is our comfort zone as we complete our routines, conduct casual conversations and memorize facts. This is the zone where we become aware of ideas we may never use. It is the primary arena for many entertainment activities such as the movies, television, games and commercials.

The medium range becomes more challenging. Some discomfort may be experienced but usually we move into this level of thought with confidence and familiarity. We think in holistic patterns rather than individual pieces. Since the basics have been conquered, we apply content within context. This is the level of thought that generates successful book reports, summary essays and winning debate teams. We also have fun in this range because many hobbies and work related challenges take us into this level of thought and the process can be enjoyable.

The high range belongs to the analytical, reflective thinker. Proceed with caution as you move beyond your comfort zone. This thought process is the “aerobic heartbeat of thinking.” In this range, you mix and match new content with an evolving context and use synthesis to integrate your beliefs, attitudes, values and experiences with other conflicting facts or opinions. You begin to interpret information with a spirit of originality. Problem solving is no longer an either-or debate. Frequently, with sincere open-mindedness, you will suspend judgment while considering multiple solutions to a particular dilemma.

Critical thinking is the range of thought used by researchers, writers and scientists who win Nobel and Pulitzer awards. It is the thought process that put Neil Armstrong on the moon and the process that will eventually give us a much needed cure for cancer and other fatal diseases. This is, most likely, the range of thought used by your parents as they helped you get to where you are today. It is the thought process you might want to utilize as you explore future career options, investigate graduate school or consider the idea of marriage.

Imagine yourself as the conductor of your mind. Reflective thought will require you to discipline and pilot four “sections” of mental attributes. These “sections” are the knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations of critical thinking. The challenge is to orchestrate your thoughts in a manner that permits you to regularly move into the high range of intensity. Without question, if you take the time to walk that remarkable path that is all too often less traveled, you will prepare yourself for a lifetime that is enriched by the full potential of an inquiring mind. And finally, as your intellectual energy transforms the fabric of your character, you will become an independent thinker.