Critical Sinking as a 21st Century Skill?

Critical [krit-i-kuh l] – “involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.”

Sink [singk] “go down below the surface of something”

I started to speak the phrase “critical thinking” today, but what came out of my mouth was “critical sinking.” I didn’t think much about it at the moment, but later that evening, as I was reflecting on the day, I remember it. I decided to look up the definitions for the two words. I keep a copy of the concise OED handy in my home, but this time I just searched random online dictionaries, which is where I came across the two definitions above.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, as corny as it may be, there might be something to this idea of “critical sinking.”  What if we thought of critical sinking as the judgment of truth and merit by going down below the surface of something?

That strikes me as a marvelously relevant concept in the digital age. Working with schools and educators, it is common for us to be drawn in by trends, fads, and educational fashion. Much of my life’s calling resides with examining contemporary life, thought, trends and events in the field of education.

What happens when we exercise some critical sinking, going beneath the surface of these trends and fads to measure their value and rightness for a given context?

What if we looked at age-old practices in education with some critical sinking?  Perhaps we will sometimes discover long-forgotten jewels, and other-times realize that what we once saw as priceless turn out to be cheap and replaceable?

Or what about the way we teach our students? Do we give them opportunity for critical sinking or do we test and quiz them on their ability to recall what is on the surface? It seems to me that a critical sinking approach to teaching and learning challenges us to not simply study textbooks, but to go beneath the surface of them. Such sinking takes time, though. It is a slow learning that may not always fit with our predetermined timetables, and some students (and teachers…and administrators) are likely to sink faster than others.

What if we challenge students to practice critical sinking of their teachers, their schools, and their overall education? I don’t mean an invitation to disrespect or disregard, but to genuinely get beneath the surface.

By sinking, we don’t just see. We discover and that is decidedly more affecting, typically more memorable, and notably more potent of a learning experience. Beneath the surface we unearth not only the what, but the how and why. In my experience, it is going beneath the surface that also gives me a chance to understand, gain new insights, to empathize, and to see meaning. So, maybe there is room for another 21st century, even if it came from a slip of the tongue.

Posted in editorials, education

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.