The Cornerstone of Higher Education — Critical Thinking. In Conversation with Sue E. Henderson

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3 min readJan 10, 2023
Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

Critical thinking is a key skill for everyone. By definition, it’s the ability to effectively analyze information and make reasoned judgments that are logical and well thought-out.

It may seem like something a scientist or professional might need to do their jobs, but we need it in everyday life. When we get an email plea for money, see a TV commercial advertising the “best” product, or have a child who’s under the weather, we call upon our critical thinking skills to evaluate if the monetary request is legitimate, how the company can back up its claim of superiority, and whether the child requires a spoonful of cough medicine or a trip to the ER.

The more educated we are the more capable we are of making these evaluations as well as more complex evaluations. Education is gained through experiences in life or in a formal process.

Sue Henderson, a former University president with deep and broad experience in many facets of education, is a people-centric leader who recognizes the strength of working with people from all backgrounds. We turned to this seasoned professional to educate us on how college-level learning molds the way in which we perceive the world.

Sue, how does higher education make us critical thinkers and how is that essential?

“Higher education helps connect the dots on information, ferret out valid information from opinion, and make informed decisions while also exploring emerging issues. Equally important is to be able to see beyond today see beyond today — to quickly come up with something today that will impact tomorrow because the pace of change is accelerating faster.

“What’s difficult is how to make sense of not only all the information that comes at us but the disinformation as well, then to be willing to ask the hard questions and have the patience to read and absorb all the substantiating materials. That’s critical thinking at work.

“It’s the ability to look at every aspect of a situation, study it and see what’s accurate as well as the consequences — intended and unintended — of making a decision.

“Here’s an example: Electric cars are 100 percent efficient since all of the energy is used to propel the vehicle and none is lost in exhaust. A critical thinker asks how is that electricity generated. By charging the battery. How? From home. Where does the house get its electricity? From a power plant. Is that power plant polluting the environment? If so, is the pollution from there just as bad as that of a gas-fueled car? The question then becomes ‘If an electric car is associated with pollution how is it better environmentally than a car that runs on gas?’

“Higher education does an excellent job of helping people think about consequences.

“However, being a critical thinker isn’t enough. We have to be thoughtful problem solvers and think much more globally.

“The world now is one big ecosystem, with many problems to solve and anticipate. Critical thinking is vital, which is why higher education is so important.”

Thanks for sharing, Sue.

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