09 Nov Which subjects develop critical thinking?
Critical thinking is a question for the whole curriculum, but some subjects are more suitable for developing critical thinking skills than others. In STEM subjects, lots of good problem-solving thinking is not critical thinking. But in HASS (Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences) subjects, problem solving is often an exercise in pure critical thinking.
For example, typical exam problems in A level RE are: “To what extent was Jesus merely a political liberator?” and “‘Good’ is meaningful. Discuss.” They require analysis and evaluation of competing arguments, some interpretation of sources, and the creation of an argument for the student’s point of view. These are all critical thinking skills. Typical exam problems in A level chemistry are: “Calculate a value for the enthalpy of lattice formation of MgO.” and “Explain the bonding in and the shape of a benzene molecule.” These problems require understanding of chemistry, mathematical skill and some creativity, but not critical thinking skills.
Put simply, critical thinking is needed when the answer to the question could go ‘either way’ and the student has to make an argument for their point of view. In STEM subjects up to A Level, the correct answer is never in doubt, but in HASS subjects, it is. This is not to say that STEM subjects never require critical thinking skills. All subjects require critical thinking at a high enough level, where there are problems on which even the academics disagree. But in secondary school, the HASS subjects deal with open-ended problems from year 7 onwards. Therefore these are the most suitable subjects for developing critical thinking skills at school.
All this follows from the definition of critical thinking, and how it differs from problem solving. Click the button to read our longer article based on peer-reviewed research into the theory of critical thinking