M1D2: Shades of Gray

Module 1: Module Notes: Introduction to Critical Thinking
Chapter Highlights, Think Again
What are the characteristics of a skilled critical thinker?
A skilled critical thinker is well informed, open-minded, attentive, and creative, and has effective analytical, research, communication, and problem-solving skills.
What are the three levels of thinking?
The three levels are experience, which includes first-hand knowledge and information from other sources; interpretation, which involves trying to make sense out of our experiences; and analysis, which requires that we critically examine our interpretations.
What are some of the barriers to critical thinking?
Barriers include narrow-mindedness, such as absolutism, egocentrism, anthropocentrism, and ethnocentrism, as well as the habitual use of resistance, such as avoidance, anger, clichés, denial, ignorance, conformity, rationalization, and distractions.
In the following discussions, we explore the role of cognition in critical thinking. Consider the concepts from the Module 1 readings as you participate in the module’s discussions.


In your reading this week, you learn that being an effective critical thinker means being well-informed and staying open-minded, among other traits. This means that you will have the ability to conduct your research to formulate an educated opinion about a topic, while also maintaining a flexibility in thought to alternative perspectives, as new information comes to light.

Accordingly, as presented in Did You Know?, studies show that young people who have positive self-esteem “have more friends, are more apt to resist harmful peer pressure, are less sensitive to criticism or to what people think, have higher IQs, and are better informed” (p. 18).

This discussion activity gives you the opportunity to think about how you stand up for your own beliefs, your willingness to consider the shades of gray of any given situation and to comfortably embrace ambiguity even if it means swimming against the tide. This activity aligns with module outcome 2. These questions have been adapted from Stop & Assess and Discussion Activities.

Answer one of the following discussion questions below:

Select a current event or news topic about which you are passionate. Adopt a stance of belief and –open-mindedness when listening to the other side’s position. Present that side. Now adopt the opposite position, your original stance, and take a position of doubt. Present that side. Discuss with the class how this exercise helped you to suspend your biases and to actively listen to views that diverge from your own.
Think of a position that you held (or still hold) against all evidence. Compare and contrast Stephen Hawking’s action with how you respond when someone challenges your views or position. Discuss what extent resistance and/or narrow-mindedness is responsible for your reluctance to change or modify your position.
Discuss a time when you deferred to the view of someone else and did (or failed to do) something you later came to regret because you were unable to give good reasons at the time for why you should not accept that person’s view. Discuss ways in which you might make yourself less prone to this behavior.
A June 2004 article in Altermedia Scotland states: “America as a nation is now dominated by an alien system of beliefs, attitudes, and values that has become known as ‘political correctness’ It seeks to impose a uniformity in thought and behavior among all Americans and is therefore totalitarian in nature.” Do you agree that political correctness imposes “a uniformity of thought and behavior”? Come up with examples of political correctness to illustrate your answer. Discuss what role, if any, political correctness might play in increasing respect for diversity and enhancing the democratic process.
Discuss Calvin’s claim that seeing the complexities of knowledge is “paralyzing.” Think back to a time when you felt, as does Calvin in the cartoon, that life is easier if you can think in dualist terms of black and white rather than “seeing the complexities and shades of gray.” Referring back to this and other similar experiences, what are some of the drawbacks of making decisions or taking action on the basis of all-or-nothing thinking? Be specific.

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