Introducing Critical Thinking Into An Introductory Astronomy College Course
Every day, we are asked to make complex decisions that are frequently based on fragments of information. Taxpayers are asked to support large, expensive projects funded by the government in areas of scientific and social concern. Much of the information used to make these decisions is based on what we have read or seen in the written and electronic press. Should we explore the planets with smart robot spacecraft or can the same objectives be better achieved by manned flights? Will the next step into space be a colony on the Moon, or should an Earth-orbiting space station be built instead? Most people have little of no training in HOW to make these decisions. It is difficult to tell when a presentation in the press is biased, or when it is not. Frequently, we are not able to make an intelligent decision because we are unable to understand the material in the presentation. Sometimes, we are unable to ask more questions about information NOT presented in
the report that would help clarify the issue.These kinds of problems are important to a society that expects its population to make intelligent decisions, and hopefully ones that will prove to be correct and beneficial in the long run.
Colleges and universities - a major source of society's future leaders - should be providing training for this important capacity. And yet all too frequently, institutions of higher learning simply have not been doing so in the past. During the last few years, however, many
people have been concerned about this apparent deficiency in the educational system, and have proposed a solution to this dilemma. It is called critical thinking. This paper attempts to explain what critical thinking is, why it is important in today's system of education, and how it may be instituted in an introductory astronomy college course. Specific examples will be presented, and an indication of its success at High Point College will be given.