Critical thinking is crucial in college life

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By JASON HENNESSEY

Important decisions are at every turn when choosing careers

Critical thinking is one of the most important skills you can acquire in college and in life. It will serve to assist you, not only in practical matters such as major purchases (a business, house or car) and life choices (which job to take, who to marry), but will also serve as a guide in many other areas: what you see as having value, how you spend your time and who you spend your time with.

One of the greatest lessons I learned during my undergrad years was in Western Civ II. It was then that it hit me that history was not about names, dates and places (we have books and the Internet to keep track of those things for us), but fundamentally a story about people, their influences and their choices. And you will carry out choices, both big and small.

How will you approach them? What influences are acting upon you? What is influencing others to push you in this direction or that? Evaluating these questions will help you to think critically about the situation.

Selfishness, for better or worse, is often not an obvious influence, which is why we should apply critical thinking skills to even non-obvious situations. The best examples are instances where things are too good to be true: most situations where a salesman doesn’t want to give you time to think about it, “free” money or items (it’s usually not if you read the fine print) or a string of empty parking spots within a crowded city (be sure to examine the signs carefully!).

One of the most prevalent examples is the “free” service available on the Internet. While some, like The Internet Archive and Wikipedia, are non-profits supported by donations, many others gain their revenue from non-obvious sources. For example, Google offers some fantastic services, ranging from maps to Google Voice to YouTube to Gmail and yes – a search engine. Ever wonder what’s in it for them? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t people watching Evolution of Dance on YouTube. While they make some money from selling some services, that only adds up to 4% of their revenues. The other 96% comes from advertisements, greatly enhanced and targeted by the information they compile about you from your use of their free services.

An area where intentions become even less clear and where critical thinking is even more important is politics. In the US (as in many other countries), we are blessed with the ability to hire and fire many of our political leaders. Where are their influences, however? Most of them say they want to eliminate the deficit and start paying down the debt, but the actions of both parties seems to run counter to that. During the Republican years (2001-2007), the debt continued its steady increase due in part to a new healthcare program (Medicare Part D), tax cuts and a couple of wars. Under the Democrats since then, we continue to see the high military spending (greater than the next 14 countries combined) and an additional healthcare program.

Are these due to wealthy special interests? A fear of losing votes due to cutting programs?

Never stop thinking critically: It’s good for you and it’s good for those around you.

Jason Hennessey is a graduate student in the Math & Statistics Department.