Critical Thinking Outside of the Classroom

We frequently explore how critical thinking instruction helps students navigate their studies and enables graduates find gainful employment in the knowledge economy. But what about individuals’ time outside of the classroom or the office?

Parents, for example, are tested daily in their ability to evaluate information and make responsible decisions. This spans the gamut from looking into claims that certain toys can impact cognitive development, to much more serious topics like vaccination. An article from Child Welfare* points out that “because science on both sides of an issue often exists, critical thinking skills are necessary for practitioners and parents to make well-educated and thoughtful decisions.” One recent study actually used a podcast to educate parents on evaluating health claims. Researchers found that after listening, 34% more of parents passed a test measuring their ability to critically assess health claims.

Money management can also cause problems for people who lack strong critical thinking skills. Consider these troubling recent findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which found that “one in five American teens fail to meet the level to be considered financially literate.” In an interview with Time Magazine, Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said “We have seen that financial capability goes well beyond just learning facts and is shaped by this broader set of attributes.” 

And then there’s health. Popular medical websites like WebMD aren’t necessarily nefarious hucksters, but users with strong critical thinking skills are much less likely to down the rabbit hole. Medicine is often much more subtle than a prescription given by a doctor. People have to make decisions about care for themselves and their families, and critical thinking is an essential component in making the right choices.

Critical thinking benefits people long after they graduate, and extends even to those time when they’re off the clock. It’s important to remember that when we teach students at all levels to be strong critical thinkers, we’re doing something much greater than boosting their GPA or helping them land a better job.


*Connell-Carrick, K. (2006). Trends in Popular Parenting Books and the Need for Parental Critical Thinking. Child Welfare, 85(5), 819-836.

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash.