Critical Thinking

5 Powerful Critical Thinking Quotes That Define What It Really Means

Critical thinking quoted over the years

Over the centuries, much has been said in praise of critical thinking. Many a great critical thinker has shared their wisdom over the years. However, since the Bard told us “brevity is the essence of wit” (and maybe even a part of critical thinking), we’re going to dive into these 5 special critical thinking quotes.

"You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it, and reach your own decisions."—Napoleon Hill

One of the biggest hallmarks of critical thinking is the capacity for independent thought. It's easy to believe or agree without consideration. Nevertheless, when we choose to think independently, we exercise a right we have as humans, and a responsibility we have as global citizens. 

Independent thought requires effort and work, but the payoff is immeasurable. For one thing, it introduces different perspectives and viewpoints, which can be educational in nature. Another aspect of independent thought is that it leads us to carry our convictions with courage and to have faith in our ability to decide what is best for ourselves. 

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."—Aristotle

According to the article How Many Thoughts Does Your Mind Think in One Hour?, cognition experts claim the human mind experiences between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day or a few thousand every hour. Thus, the act of thinking critically includes considering those thoughts that carry importance and discarding or ignoring those that do not.

Say you leave the iron on when you leave the house. You get down the driveway, suddenly remember that you left it on, go back inside and turn it off. Your day continues as normal, or does it? Here's what may happen next:

“That was so stupid, I could have burned down the house."

"What if I forget to turn the stove off after I make breakfast? The kids will burn a hand off!"

"What will my husband/wife think when they hear about it?"

"Am I going senile?"

This is what we call "telling our story." The stories we tell ourselves, however, are not the facts. The fact is you left the iron on, remembered because you're smart, turned it off, and diverted a disaster. Additionally, now that you've learned from this experience, you'll be more conscientious next time, and your family may also pick up on your good habits. That's the path of the critical thinker.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."—Albert Einstein

Few men in history are able to match Einstein for critical thinking capacity. This bit of wisdom has timeless implications for the lives of all learners young and old, and both inside and outside school. 

Inherent curiosity is one of the defining traits of highly effective critical thinkers. With that curiosity comes the practice of questioning to explore, discover, and reveal. This is why through using essential and herding questions in our teaching, we drive learners' curiosity by engaging them in exploring a topic through questions that begin big and get increasingly specific as more discover its are made.

Consider also that curiosity is like exercise for the brain, combatting boredom and stagnation by making the brain more active and energized. By being curious, we seek out possibilities and perceive things we normally wouldn't see. Or, we end up seeing them in a completely different light.

"My father used to say 'Don't raise your voice, improve your argument.'"—Desmond Tutu

This can happen when someone not nearly as informed as they thought suddenly has their tightly-held view challenged by either logic or hard data. Since our views are important to us and partly define who we are, this can be threatening. As a result, such an individual might react impulsively and out of fear, their first inclination being to raise their voice to drown out the offending opposition.

Critical thinkers don't work that way. Instead, they come prepared to open discussions with a solid bedrock of knowledge and experience to rest on the discussion topic. They'll listen openly to the views of others and consider anything that another's perspective may have to teach them, and share in any and all discussions constructively as possible.

The point is, critical thinkers seek to improve their positions in an argument logically, and with respect for an opposer. This is how we transform conflict into conversation. 

"Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider."—Francis Bacon

There is so much opinion and perspective in the world being shared freely through both online and offline channels that one must truly be able to read something without taking it immediately to heart. Analytical skills for reading are thus valuable skills to foster in our learners. One thing we can do for them in this vein is to encourage them to ask thoughtful questions as they read.

The purpose for this is simple; not only does it cultivate independent critical thinking skills, but it helps students enjoy reading more. Rather than passively consuming the words they read, they are questioning and observing, looking for hidden meanings, recognizing patterns and relations to experiences they’ve had, and more. 

There is an inherent danger in taking what we read at face value, and there always has been. This is why we continue to teach the skills of Information Fluency to our learners, and why the capacity to think critically about what we read factors greatly into its process.