The Character of Critical Thinking

Updated: Jun 28, 2018



Before debate and speech, critical thinking was only a phrase used to represent my skills on my resume when applying for jobs. Then, during my time as a competitor in high school and college, critical thinking transformed beyond a skill set and into a lifestyle. The lifestyle of critical thinking was taught to me through the discipline of speech and debate, and I want to share what it means to me.


How does one learn to live critically? How will the Helmsmen Institute help students to become independent thinkers? What does it mean to analyze something while thoroughly pushing aside bias? I will address these questions for you in this Helmsmen blog, and hope to expand on your impression of what it means to be a critical thinker in debate and daily life.


What?

First, what do I mean when I say “critical thinking?” Critical thinking – in debate and speech – means analyzing evidence, connecting ideas, discovering new philosophies or ideologies, annotating books and articles, or thinking deeply upon the direction of arguments. Critical thinking as a lifestyle means to make decisions, judgments, and opinions independently and to seek knowledge and cultivate wisdom. The previous two sentences are things I probably heard or read a hundred times before I understood what they meant. Let’s unpack these definitions by explaining what the practice of critical thinking entails.


Whenever you read the news, a book, a poem or another type of literature, you do not understand the words on the page as only the arrangement of the letters in specific patterns. Each word carries a meaning and a purpose, whether that is the writer’s intent or the reader’s interpretation. Understanding both the writer’s and reader’s points of view is the beginning of critical thinking. Why would an author make this argument for one side of a debate or conclude with this idea based on these facts? Why do I feel encouraged or attacked by the statements of that speaker, writer, or artist? Critical thinking is about discovering the motives of outside opinions and seeing what influenced those motives. Then, once you understand the foundation of an idea, you create your own opinion about that idea. Do I agree with that argument? Do I disagree with that argument? Most importantly, why do I respond to that idea in this way? If you are searching – even if you don’t already know – the answers to many of the previous questions, then you are critically thinking. If you go through this process when reading, talking, or writing daily, then you are employing critical thinking as a lifestyle. You are the independent thinker!


How?

My previous words probably made critical thinking seem simple, but critical thinking is a challenging skill that requires intentional training. You cannot wake up tomorrow morning, decide to start the analyzing lifestyle and then be a master of the practice. Independent thinkers use their brain to create their informed decisions, and the brain needs FOOD! Yes, if you were questioning it, the Helmsmen Institute loves food, especially brain food! This is why we create easy to use evidence briefs, write speech advice pieces, and share our knowledge with students that want to spend more time formulating their ideas and opinions than scouring the internet for hours. Here at Helmsmen, we encourage the student’s curiosity and hunger for knowledge by feeding their brains the tools of research, organization, and brainstorming that can start the journey of a critical thinker.


The thinking never stops! A Helmsmen’s job is never done, just like the brain should never stop learning and creating. Year-round our qualified staff works to develop new content and find new sources of knowledge that students can consume, analyze, and deploy as a part of their mental arsenal. You don’t want to stop the independent thinking train when it starts and neither do we! I love to meet other critical thinkers and hear their opinions – whether I disagree or agree – on hot topics, in-depth research, or random ideas because the conversation builds and shapes new ideas in my head. That shared learning experience is what we at the Helmsmen Institute want for our staff and students. We want to guide the ship that leads people to become independent thinkers in their daily life by feeding their brain and helping families grow with the knowledge we have to share.


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