What is Critical Thinking?

To be worthy of the name, critical thinking must be sustained, analytical, synoptic, and accountable.

Seven  tools are invaluable in honing these qualities: the thematic journal, the thematic matrix, thematic matrix exchange,  the thematic calendar of conversations, the thematic before and after test, the attitude checklist and the thematic capstone.

The thematic journal: critical thinking takes time. Clear writing is the key to clear thinking. Reading without writing is like eating without digesting. You can’t learn from the past if you can’t remember it. Without the regular recording of facts, thoughts, and feelings, wheel reinvention will be constant and progress nil. Thoughts should be organized by theme. Hence, the thematic journal.

The thematic matrix: on a periodic basis, journal notes should be summarized and organized in the equivalent of a graphic elevator speech. The matrix is the perfect metaphor for the essence of analytical thinking. Analysis means breaking down a problem into its parts. Matrices are ubiquitous in the presentations of investment bankers and consultants because they are the most effective tool for communicating complex ideas.  Examples of their power are the Eisenhower

Decision Matrix, the Periodic Table and the Punnett Square.

Thematic matrices should be exchanged with peers in thematic conversations.

Without the motivation of a peer group similarly committed to learning, interest will sag. Conversations are invaluable tools for honing thinking and preventing a drift into solipsism. The best test of the quality of your ideas is the crucible of dialogue.

The thematic calendar: without a regular periodic return to a theme there will be no depth of thought. If it is not on the calendar, it won’t happen.

The thematic before and after test: no before test no baseline, no after test no accountability. You have taken the before test. At the end of a series of conversations about a topic, a formal presentation both oral and in writing is the best after test.

The thematic capstone: the pressure of a formal public presentation both oral and written with graphic tools to enhance both is a critical discipline for putting together ideas on the most important, and inevitably complex issues.

Each tool alone is extremely powerful. Together their power increases exponentially. Sadly, their coordinated use is not taught in most elementary schools.

Changing this would dramatically accelerate learning and provide a much firmer foundation for life long learning.

In the pages that follow I address 23 questions. My answers are not definitive. They should be considered as one voice around a table, one contributor in a Socratic dialogue.

For more details: see Manifesto.