Common misconceptions of critical thinking

Author: Sharon Bailin, Roland Case,J errold R. Coombs and Leroi B. Daniels

Year: 2010

Paper Description

This paper discusses the topic of critical thinking and how it is conceptualized, taught, and understood in both theory and education. The authors express their view that much of the current theoretical work and educational efforts related to critical thinking are misguided because they are based on faulty conceptions of what critical thinking actually is. They argue that critical thinking is often portrayed in terms of skills, processes, procedures, and practices.

The authors suggest that the existing literature often contains overlapping and confusing uses of terms such as skill, process, procedure, behavior, and mental operations. They highlight the need for more distinct and accurate ways of discussing critical thinking. The aim of the authors is to provide a critique of the existing conceptualizations of critical thinking and lay the groundwork for a new conception of critical thinking based on different foundational assumptions.

Key Takeaway 1

While some view critical thinking as primarily developing thinking skills, this perspective can oversimplify the complexity. Critical thinking involves more than just skills; it requires background knowledge, context-specific understanding, and the disposition to engage critically. Identifying critical thinking solely with specific mental processes or skills can overlook the central role of knowledge and attitudes in effective critical thinking. The process-oriented view might oversimplify the multifaceted nature of critical thinking.

Key Takeaway 2

The conception of critical thinking as following step-by-step procedures is inadequate. Developing competence in critical thinking is not solely dependent on teaching specific steps or procedures to follow. Instead, critical thinking involves exercising judgment, considering context, and applying criteria and standards relevant to the situation. The effectiveness of critical thinking skills depends on understanding and applying appropriate criteria rather than mere repetition of tasks. Critical thinking cannot be reduced to routine procedures; it requires ongoing engagement with standards of good thinking and the ability to adapt to different contexts.

Standout Quote

“Unlike athletic skill, skill in critical thinking cannot be separated from understanding the nature and purpose of the task one is attempting to accomplish”


critical thinking, skills, mental processes, procedures, misconceptions, teaching, analysis, education, cognitive development, reasoning, problem-solving, learning, classroom, curriculum, instruction, evaluation, assessment, cognitive skills, critical analysis, thinking skills, education reform