Preparing Students to be Critical Thinkers

Black Woman Thinking

One of the most important jobs of an educator is to prepare students to be critical thinkers.  In a postmodern America educators have a responsibility to provide multifarious opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking exercises.  More focus has to be placed on building critical thinkers rather than assuming students are already critical thinkers.  Many educators see that believe that they already have critical thinkers who need to be challenged to become more advanced critical thinkers.  Even the most ostensibly gifted student in your classroom needs to benefit from rigorous preparation for critical thinking.  While great attention has been devoted to teaching Common Core standards throughout the United States, the top goal of those standards must be to produce true critical thinkers.  An educated person is a critical thinker.  If a person cannot think critically, he or she is not adequately educated.

We have to reimagine our pre-k – college classroom as critical thinking laboratories.  The pursuit of a diploma and degree must have significantly increased critical thinking skills and capacity attached to it.  Many people are familiar with the trite question: Why can’t Johnny read?  Let’s replace this question with a new question: What critical thinking preparation have we given Johnny to help him to be able to read?  Learning how to read is a challenge.  We, therefore, have to offer Johnny training in critical thinking that will enable him to conquer the challenge of learning to read.

Do You Truly Want to Close the Achievement Gap?

Educators and administrators genuinely committed to closing the academic achievement gap between white and non-whites will begin to embrace how vital it is to transform classrooms into critical thinking laboratories.  Imagine being in a Mathematic class where teachers take the time to view each problem through the lens of building critical thinkers.  How the students conceive and work through each problem will be viewed as just as essential as the actual answer.  We will begin to see instructors assigning students to write reflectively about their Mathematics problems, empowering instructors and students with a keen understanding of strengths and weaknesses in solving assigned problems.

What is the Goal of Preparing Students to Become Critical Thinkers?

First, our American democracy depends deeply on an educated citizenry.  Without a mind that thinks critically, one cannot fully comprehend democratic principles and values.  If you don’t think that a failure to grasp democratic principles and values is a problem in America, think again.  At the epicenter of racial, economic and educational problems is a problem with the majority of citizens not being able to cognize and maximize the power of democratic principles and values.  The fight to maintain democracy in America rests first at the doors of democratic education, which critical thinking is central to its composition.

Second, we need critical thinkers to solve the complex national and global quandaries we face.  Terrorism, economic inequality, racial discrimination, world hunger, and etc. cannot be resolved without critical thinkers.

Finally, critical thinkers are crucial to making the next generation of thinkers ready for the tremendous challenges they will encounter.  The world will continue to advance.  Educators must ensure that there is an appropriate transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next.


Let’s empower teachers with the flexibility and tools to transform students into powerful critical thinkers.  From pre-k – college, teachers must concentrate on how they can become meaningful participants in facilitating the evolution of leaders equipped to think in ways that change our world.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison


  1. So very well said I reblogged. A friend once asked me to help her daughter who was in high school at the time with her English. Turns out that shining star needed NO help with her English at all. What she did NEED was to be ALLOWED to think ALOUD. The teacher had shut down her critical thinking skills. Two sessions later, she FLEW through high school, university and is in the field of social work while running her own business. Amazing to think that this CRITICAL element of thinking is so overlooked. Thanks for this!

    1. Thank you very much! It’s very unfortunate that a teacher would not grant her an opportunity to fully maximize her potential. As a teacher, I understand how essential it is to provide students with a range of sundry opportunities to use their unique skills and to building their critical thinking prowess and capacity. Thank you very much for reading, your excellent response, and for reblogging this piece.

      1. Oh my, so sorry I missed this until now! has turned me right upside down with all the changes and not knowing where to find what anymore. It was my pleasure to reblog. Thank you for stopping to say this and also for being one of those great teachers 😀 I never had a bad teacher in my life. (but then I never went to school either j/k LOL) It’s actually the truth. They were all terrific and I can’t thank them enough for being the best teachers ever. I suspect you will have students saying same one day if they do not already 🙂

        1. Most of my students have really appreciated my teaching and the mentoring I provided (and provide) to many of them outside of the classroom. I have really been fortunate to have some great students. Again, thanks!

  2. As an educator in NYC, the first thing I need is class size reduced. I could inject a lot more critical thinking if I could devote more individual attention and time to students and create more intimate settings for my students to engage one another. Two, the achievement gap is also related to an effort gap. Too many of my students spend hours upon hours playing Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, on Facebook, etc., while neglecting homework. When students do little to no outside work, it’s difficult, near impossible to close any gap. Textbooks! Remember when you were in school and you took home a social studies book, a science book etc.? Not so for my students. We have a “class-set of books” and students rarely have a book to take home, even in the case of the novels they’re expected to read. No wonder they don’t comprehend textbooks. Also, the black-white achievement gap is a distraction for me. If my black students made the same gains as whites on tests, I’d consider it a bronze medal at the Olympics. Asian students outpace most American children, black, white, Hispanic included. The constant conversation about the black-white gap hides the gap that exists between Asian students and everyone else.

    1. Outstanding response! I agree very much with most of what you have said. Although you characterize the academic achievement gap between blacks and whites as “the constant conversation,” it’s still an important discourse to have. It’s the most troubling academic achievement gap. Black males academically underperform all students throughout the educational pipeline, even in once they arrive in higher education. Yes, it’s essential to look at how Asian students are outperforming all racial groups, but until significant progress in made in closing the wide academic achievement gap between blacks and whites, there will be many of us who have devoted our research agenda to improving educational experiences and outcomes for black students that will persist to seek meaningful improvement for them. I am concerned about ameliorating the educational experiences and outcomes of all students, but the dismal academic performances of black male students have me focused on their improvement at the present time. We have to find ways to make education culturally relevant to students, which I see as crucial to increasing students’ engagement with their academics outside of class. I once taught at a school where there was only a “class set” of textbooks. I understand how limiting this can be for both the teacher and students. Reduced class size helps teachers to offer students preparation to be critical thinkers, but we can train students to be critical thinkers even when efforts are not made to reduce class size. Again, excellent response and I very much appreciate you for reading and commenting.

  3. Wow! Very informative! Definitely politically incorrect. In addition, I would suggest the importance of educators maintaining an attitude to continuously learn and to have a passion for the transfer of knowledge to the generation with an understanding that their pupils are the future problem solvers!

    1. Thank you very much! True, effective educators maintain a constant commitment to increasing their learning, for the more one learns, the more he or she recognizes how much exactly he or she does not know. If our students are going to be prepared for the challenges, problems, and jobs/careers of the 21st century, then we must equip them with the tools and experiences that will lead them to devote themselves to a life of critical thinking.

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