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History’s Hierarchy of Purpose – Critical Thinking & Context

The Google definition of critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” (If you enter “define critical thinking” into Google Chrome, this is the definition that pops up on top of the page.)

We seem to have a shortage of critical thinking in society today. There are plenty of judgments flying around, but they are based more on emotion, propaganda and tribalisim than objective analysis and evaluation.

This isn’t the best way to make decisions because basing judgments on emotion, propaganda and tribalism can lead to actions with poor outcomes.

As you’ve been following along with discussions on History’s Hierarchy of Purpose, particularly the challenges, you’ve maybe noticed that critical thinking is embedded within other levels on the hierarchy. As you study history, or are entertained by it, you automatically start asking questions and making comparisons. And when you ask questions or make comparisons, you are exercising your critical thinking skills. Questions are part of analysis and comparisons help you evaluate a current or past situation in terms of where you want to be in the future.

As you are asking questions and making comparisons for a particular situation, you need to be paying attention to the context surrounding the situation. The context includes the complex factors in society that give rise to a situation or in some way support the situation.

So, for example, the Great Depression of the 1930s was preceded by the stock market crash of 1929 (Black Tuesday), which was brought about by market speculation, “low wages, the proliferation of debt, a struggling agricultural sector and an excess of large bank loans that could not be liquidated.”

All these factors provided the context for the Great Depression, with each of the factors having their own web of context.

The more you study the context for a given situation, the more information you will have to perform your analysis and evaluation in order to make a judgment leading to a decision or action.

History, the record of past people and events, provides us with plenty of context and ample opportunity to exercise our critical thinking skills. In addition, we can directly learn what worked and what didn’t in past eras because history shows us the outcome of given decisions and actions.

What helped the United States to ease the effects of the Great Depression? Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal social programs, including the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Social Security. World War II eventually provided the employment and economic growth that ended the Great Depression.

The Global Digital Citizen Foundation has developed a handy tool called “The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking” that provides a list of questions you can use to jumpstart your critical thinking skills.

History's Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.
History’s Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.

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