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Saturday, October 5, 2013

System 2 Thinking: Is Critical Thinking Valued in Gifted Education?



When we use the terminology “critical thinking” in everyday language, we often associate this type of thinking with the notion of skepticism. The inquiry “Is this really true?” may be construed as a challenge, but actually I would prefer this most basic question be viewed as taking the time out to judge or evaluate any given statement, idea, solution or belief. Indeed, the term “critical” finds its roots in the Greek verb “krinein,” meaning to judge or evaluate. If we complement the term “critical” with “thinking,” we are now “adding the use of reason as the means of evaluation,” as Brenda Linn and Bruce M. Shore assert in their chapter of “Critical Thinking” in the aptly named “Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education,” published by the NationalAssociation of Gifted Children.

The process of thinking by itself may be close to spontaneous or instinctive as may be the behavior or act of making critical statements. Grouping these two terms together, however, it is easy to recognize that critical thinking is a rich process of thinking about validity or truth. The 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow  by Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman indeed summarizes years of his and other research that there are two fundamental systems of thinking (and the book also hints at the notion that we generally place too much trust in human judgment).

These two systems of thinking are generally categorized as System 1 and System 2 thinking models. Critical thinking falls into System 2. Educational psychologist Keith E. Stanovich views “critical thinking as rule-based, conscious, relatively slow, serial, resource-intensive, controlled, decontextualized, and acquired by cultural transmission and formal learning.” He contrasts that with System 1 Thinking (or The Autonomous Set of Systems (TASS)) that “is relatively undemanding of cognitive capacity, relatively fast, and is acquired from biology, exposure, and personal experience.” Linn and Shore offer the further contrast of Systems 1 and 2 based on their research of other scientists who characterize System 1 as “an automatic, heuristic-based, tacit, gist, fuzzy trace, or holistic processing system,” and System 2 as “a systematic, rational, explicit, or analytical processing system.”

Linn and Shore state that popular culture views System 1 as the “intuitive, holistic, spontaneous, even reflexive – the locus of intelligence….capable of reacting in deeply unintelligent ways,” while System 2 is that thinking that enables us “to override the built-in biases of the older, more automatic System 1.” (Kahneman describes how System 1 Thinking lulls us into a sense of being tricked. He cites a simple algebraic problem – a baseball and a bat cost $1.10 combined, and the difference in price between the bat and the ball is one dollar. The overriding majority of quick responses as to the price for each item is $1 for the bat and ten cents for the ball, which obviously does not account for the condition that the bat is $1 higher in price than the ball).

There is little evidence of research as relates especially to the two-system model, which has focused on the field of gifted education, but yet Linn and Shore assert that “basic critical thinking research has direct implications for the teaching of gifted students.” The first such implication is best summarized by psychologist Robert Sternberg’s question of “why do intelligent people believe and do such foolish things,” and Stanovich’s reply of “what can be done about that?” Furthermore, Linn and Shore suggest that critical thinking skills are “not being taught in most school curricula, including those intended for highly able students.”

R. H. Ennis, originator of the Cornell Critical Thinking Test, asserts that often critical thinking is confused with problem-solving or higher order thinking. He identified what he called critical thinking dispositions -- "asking a question, asking for clarification, and acquiring relevant background information." He credits his colleague Lowell Hedges for putting forth specific abilities that should be fostered to become a critical thinker. They are: 

1.  The ability to identify and formulate problems, as well as the ability to solve them.

2.  The ability to recognize and use inductive reasoning, as well as the ability to solve them.

3.  The ability to draw reasonable conclusions from information found in various sources, whether written, spoken, tabular, or graphic, and to defend one’s conclusions rationally.

4.  The ability to comprehend, develop, and use concepts and generalizations.

5.  The ability to distinguish between fact and opinion.


Linn’s and Shore’s chapter in the Gifted Education Handbook conclude that “gifted students enjoy learning about tricky tasks, deceptive arguments, and misleading kinds of arguments more than students who are less able to think abstractly and meta-cognitively. Less enjoyable for gifted students may be the process of critically analyzing their own thinking dispositions.” Interestingly enough, the authors believe that this lesser enthusiasm is the result of our methods by which we identify gifted students. “The ability to arrive at the expected answer, rather than to wrestle with problems and formulate objective and defensible solutions, may have dominated the process by which their giftedness was identified.”

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