Jul 20, 2013
The most frequent question I hear from students is, ‘Why do we have to study history? It’s soooooo boring!’ One of the most important reasons for studying History is that it teaches us how to think critically.
What is Critical Thinking? We all think. ‘What am I going to do after school?’ ‘I don’t like Sofie’s new shirt’ ‘Mr. S sure has weird hair.’ Thinking critically, however, is a more active way of thinking. When we think critically we separate facts from opinions and truth from speculation. Using critical thinking helps us make informed and well-reasoned decisions instead of rash, emotionally-charged ones. Critical thinking improves one’s thinking and their ability to communicate with others.
So how do Historians think critically? Historians use a process similar to the Scientific Method.
Remembering: Acquiring knowledge by remembering facts, names, dates, events, and ideas forms the basis for the study of History. (When did the Korean War start? When was the Acropolis built?)
Understanding: Understanding facts involves explaining, interpreting, describing, or clarifying them. (Describe two events that led to the Korean War. Explain why the Acropolis was built.)
Analyzing: Take apart the subject matter to see how the parts fit together; review causes, find gaps in understanding, and seek additional information. (What were the causes of the Korean War? Explain the relationship between religion and society in Ancient Greece?)
Applying: Apply the acquired knowledge, facts, or interpretations to a new situation or in a different way. (How would you apply what you know about the causes of the Korean War to a study of the Vietnam War? What other civilizations built large temple complexes?)
Evaluating: Make and support judgments on the subject matter for a specific purpose. (Rank the causes of the Korean War from most to least significant and justify their order. Does the reign of Alexander deserve his title of ‘Alexander the Great?’)
Creating: Put the pieces back together in a new way. Collect information from several sources. Draw conclusions and create insights. (Formulate a theory on the causes of the Korean War. How were the various Grecian City-States ruled and why did their populations accept their rule?)
Putting the Story Together: After answering the questions, the Historian puts together the ‘raw materials’ like pieces of a puzzle to tell a coherent story.
Critical thinking is essential because it enables us to understand the logical connections between thoughts. It also helps us identify, build and evaluate arguments. Critical thinking is also important because it helps us to become aware of discrepancies, contradictions and common mistakes in reasoning and interpretation.
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