All of the classes I teach at the two community colleges where I am employed are writing classes. I am often saddled with the dreaded Freshman Composition course, the infamous English 101 that all of you college grads had to take whether you liked it or not. You probably didn't; neither did I when I was an 18-year-old frosh. So I can sympathize with the elephantine ambivalence that my students carry, at least initially, into my classroom.
So I try to make my courses more than just a series of how-to sessions about comma placement, subordinate clauses, and present participial phrases. I inject the concept of critical thinking: the idea that any claim we are presented with, whether it be the whitening capability of a certain toothpaste or the existence of God, should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. How strong is the evidence supporting the claim? Perhaps the claim has no evidence at all to support it. If that's the case, why is it believed?
An equally important and related critical ability is being able to put information into a coherent context. I am constantly shocked by how many college students cannot do this on even a basic level. As one teacher (no, not I) once wrote on a student's paper, "You have a six-pack of soda cans in your head, but you are missing the plastic thingy that holds them together." The metaphor is appropriate. My son once overheard a young lady answering a friend's question about what had started World War II. She said, "The Jews bombed Pearl Harbor."
The giver of this erroneous information obviously lacked the ability to put what she had heard in her History class into any kind of reasonable context. In the lessons on WWII, she had heard something about Jews and about Pearl Harbor. Also, bombing and other forms of military tactics had been mentioned. But look at how carelessly and foolishly she put it all together: "The Jews bombed Pearl Harbor." Stories like this make me want to cry. And lest you think this is an isolated incident, just the other day, I saw something similar in a short essay turned in by one of my current students.
I had shown in class a movie called Prisoner of Her Past, a documentary about a Chicago Tribune writer, Howard Reich, who wanted to learn more about his elderly Jewish mother who is suffering from late onset post-traumatic stress disorder due to her experiences as a young girl in Eastern Europe. She had spent several of her formative years in the 1940s running and hiding from the Nazis. Most of the time she was hungry and covered with lice, isolated from her family, alone in an "outer world" where people died violently or disappeared without a trace.
Some parts of the movie indeed complicated our perceived understanding of the Holocaust. For instance, an old Ukranian woman (not Jewish) told the filmmakers that, as a little girl, she had witnessed many Jews rounded up and shot and thrown into mass graves. When asked to describe the Germans who had done this, she said, "They weren't Germans. They were Ukranian police. They were my own people." Jolting as that was to us viewers, it was clear -- to most of us at least -- that those Ukranian policemen were puppets of the Nazis.
Such unavoidable ambiguities, though, should in no way lead to what the aforementioned current student of mine wrote in her paper. She said that Reich's mother, in her PTSD induced paranoid state, is constantly afraid that the Jews will come and put a bullet in her head, or that the Jews are going to invade her country. Yes, you read that correctly: My student, after watching this film that ran for about an hour, did not pick up on the fact that Mrs. Reich, who lives in a nursing home in Illinois, is a Jew. My student also confused Jews with Nazis!
How is that possible? How is that even conceivable? The answer that I propose is that she has never been taught to think critically: to process, analyze, and contextualize what she is seeing or listening to. Her mind must be a storehouse of random facts and images with nothing binding them together where they need to be bound or separating them where they need to be separated. Add to that a toxic mixture of uninformed opinions and ideological nonsense, and the thoughts in her head must be blowing around willy nilly as the books in a library with all the windows open might be hurled about by a hurricane.
This young lady's essay should serve as a warning to all of us that we must improve education in this country at all levels, from kindergarten all the way up the ladder. Let's hope that it's not too late to combat the ideological indoctrination, ignorance, and stupidity that lead to such gross misunderstanding as that illustrated above.
Critical thinking is a very valuable skill especially for Chinese students studying in the US. It can be simply understood as the process of making decisions that are aimed at solving various problems. You may be asking yourself why critical thinking is important in college: it provides you with an intellectual approach to any kind of information you come across. This is a process that plays a fundamental role in making choices both at the college level as well as at the job market.
International students, especially Chinese, are required to put more effort than their American peers in their activities due to the fact that they are far away from home, their language knowledge is not perfect and the difference in mentality is striking. So, what does this have to do with critical thinking? Why is critical thinking important in college? Well, with this skill you can do the following
Evaluate and Improve Your Own Thinking Processes
While using critical thinking skills you can communicate effectively with others while trying to come up with solutions to different problems. It results in better communication with professors and fellow students. In the long run you are likely to experience better grades and improved relationships with your peers.
Critical thinking helps you to think open-mindedly in situations that require analytical thinking and assessment. And when you come across something you don’t know or understand, critical thinking pushes you further to explore the depths of the given information and try your limits of comprehension.
Better Deal with Stressful Situations
This is another reason as to why critical thinking is important in college. Chinese students in the US are likely to face a myriad of problems due to the change of the environment, language barriers, etc. With good critical thinking abilities you can easily come up with solutions that may help you deal with stressful situations in a more effective and simpler way.
Raise Vital Questions and Find Solutions to Problems
This is achieved through gathering and assessing relevant information. With this information you can come up with abstract ideas, interpret them effectively and come to well researched conclusions and solutions.
Become a Better Team Player
Critical thinking allows you to develop your team work skills and assess effectively the situation you are in. You are also able to better interact with your peers as well as solve any possible conflicts or problems that may arise in your day-to-day lives. This is because you get to be a great listener and collaborator when working in a group with other non-Chinese nationalities.
Critical thinking is important in college especially among the Chinese students as it helps them to better understand international processes as well as encourages them to be more experimental and to question the different aspects of life. Additionally, critical thinking has been known to lead to prudence and reasonability that most employers find valuable. This is why Chinese students who show critical thinking capabilities are likely to land better jobs in the US.
About Jessica Dong
Jessica Dong is a 21-year-old student from Beijing. She studies business development in the USA and dreams of running her own company. Jessica is a socially active student with interest in traveling, social media and entertainment.
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