I throw around phrases in my advanced writing class like high speed Frisbees, hoping students catch them and toss them back. We talk about critical thinking, methodologies, a written voice, and analogies. So much happens in an essay. So much rises and falls, like the time I saw children swirling up the sediment from a stagnant pond, only to find that beneath the fallen leaves and sticks, frogs, turtles, and salamander hid. Critical thinking feels like that to me. It’s a revelation that, right beneath the surface of our instinctual, habitual, or unexamined thoughts, treasures hide.
Critical thinking, at least for my students today, means examining assumptions, judgments, biases, and singular perspectives. It means asking about the viewpoints of other people and dialoguing with those voices with fairness, respect, and humility. It means believing we can learn something from everyone; we can strengthen our minds by thinking from different angles; we can find connections we never realized were there; we find meaning that suddenly rises up like a precious jewel.
And we explain ourselves differently today. We write with new voices–like trying on outfits from a store we’d never imagine could work for our style–and we find analogies to bridge our universe to the readers. We become teachers as we write at the same time we stay students. We remember that, as Parker Palmer once taught me, that “we teach what we most need to learn.”