Critical thinking is one of the “21st Century Skills” that many education systems around the world, including Chongshin University, aim to promote. You don’t have to be a language teacher or a Christian to have an interest in critical thinking, but language teachers in general, and Christian language teachers in particular, have reason to put it at the core of their curriculum.
Before addressing why critical thinking has special significance for Christian English teachers, it’s important to consider how critical thinking is different from thinking in general. Although a number of lower-order thinking skills (e.g., remembering, understanding, applying) may be a necessary foundation for critical thinking, they don’t have the necessary characteristics of critical thinking. To be considered critical thinking the thought process must be objective and it must aim toward judgment. A critical mind is characterized by both healthy skepticism and open-mindedness. These two attitudes may seem like opposites, but they work together as a filter for beliefs, letting in good ideas and keeping out bad ideas. If either skepticism or open-mindedness dominates the thought process, critical thinking suffers. Someone who is too open-minded will believe false things, and someone who pokes holes in every argument may have difficulty accepting the truth. Either extreme represents a failure to think critically.
Why is critical thinking important in language education? The goal of language learning is communication with people who are different from us, and this opens the door to new ideas and information. Critical thinking helps us to sift through this new information with open-mindedness on one hand and healthy skepticism on the other. Without an attitude of objectivity and open-mindedness toward a new culture, our own cultural prejudices may bias us against information before we even fully understand it. Without healthy skepticism, we may romanticize foreign cultures and adopt new ideas without critically evaluating them first.
Not only language teachers, but also Christian teachers have special reasons to focus on critical thinking. The first reason is simply the golden rule. We want to be good critical thinkers ourselves and so we should desire this for our students as well. Another reason is that Christian teachers have a responsibility to develop God-given gifts. God gave humanity the ability to reason, and we honor this aspect of creation when we help students reach the potential that God has planted inside of them by practicing critical thinking. A third reason is that critical thinking is a necessary part of repentance. In order to recognize our own sin and how we need to change, we need to set aside our own prejudices so that we can see ourselves objectively and critically.
Christian English teachers should recognize that language learning takes place at the intersection of cultures, and this is fertile ground for critical introspection for both language learners and native speakers. When we have a cross-cultural encounter, we become more aware of the shortcomings of their own culture. As a result, we rediscover our need for repentance and forgiveness, and the process of cross-cultural healing can begin.
Because of the role it plays in repentance and forgiveness, critical thinking should not merely be seen as a tool for economic survival in the 21st Century, but as a Christian skill with special significance for language teaching.
Smith, D. I. & Carvill, B. (2000) The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality, and Foreign Language Learning. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Prof. Heidi Vande Voort Nam (Department of English Education)