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The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills in Educating the Whole Person

Think Before You Act!

Most educators are aware of the importance of technical skills in STEM subjects but do not necessarily recognize the importance of “soft skills” to carry out technical skills in a way that communicates personal values and logical thinking. Soft skills provide a foundation to analyze and apply decision-making effectively in many tasks in life and encounters with others. It is essential today because all too many don’t know how to communicate with others or feel uncomfortable doing so, in part because they spend most of their days communicating online where we can remain anonymous and say anything we want – even if it’s harmful and directed towards others.

The Purpose of Critical Thinking Skills

In other words, in addition to developing technical skills for analysis, effective education also should develop soft skills for execution. The soft skills include oral and written communication skills, analytical reasoning, ethical analysis, and problem solving. Taken together, these skills “critical thinking skills.”  

The education of high school students should be examined to see if these skills, which lead to critical thinking, are being taught. In today’s world there is an increasing need to develop the ability to think and act analytically because there are many conflicts we encounter in our daily lives and in the workplace.

How can soft schools be taught in high school? I believe experiential learning is the answer. It focuses on mental processes, including how people view and think about different situations, learn to solve problems, and reflect on the outcome of their decisions. In experiential learning theory, learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. When the experience includes an ethical dilemma, the learning process is enhanced by developing the ethical reasoning skills of students, a critical thinking skill.

Critical Thinking and Online Behaviors

Teachers should tailor their curricula to place students in situations where they can practice these skills. It can be an effective vehicle for discussing potentially harmful actions online like cyberbullying where one person does or says something so hurtful towards another that the recipient becomes depressed and, taken to an extreme, may think about suicide.

Soft skills can be used to discuss troublesome behaviors like “sexting.” The act of sexting means sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. It can be dangerous to the sender when one transmission is shared with others online. Would critical thinking skills have made a difference? It certainly can’t hurt and could save the sender from a deep embarrassment that could negatively influence their lives. 

Reflection is an important factor in developing critical thinking skills. There is a saying that if you don’t learn from history, you’re bound to repeat your mistakes in the future. Reflecting on the outcome of our decisions before we make them, and then adjusting in our behavior based on critical thinking, is one key to a civilized society, something missing today.

Soft Skill Development Soft skills

According to an article by Sweha Hazari, soft skills can be developed by:

  • Aim to be heard: To communicate effectively, it is essential that you are mindful of the other person’s wishes and sensibilities. You should avoid offensive language or remarks that might hurt the other person. Make sure you have an idea of what the other person wants to talk about before changing the topic of conversation.
  • Make eye contact during face-to-face interactions: Direct eye contact provides assurance that you are paying attention to the other person. The recipient will feel more engaged in the conversation.
  • Monitor your body language and observe others: Be conscious of your body language when you interact with others. Make sure you send out positive vibes and try not to come across as closed-off, defensive or rude.

We need to find ways to integrate soft skills into high school curricula. It really shouldn’t be that difficult because success in every most fields of study depend on the ability to communicate clearly, analyze uncertain situations, and act in an ethical manner. In the workplace, critical thinking skills are a valuable asset for an employee, as employers typically appreciate workers who can correctly assess a situation and come up with a logical resolution.

Critical Thinking in Everyday Life

Colleges and universities have been dealing with teaching soft skills for years. Since many high school students come in without the necessary critical thinking skills to handle the challenges of everyday life and be successful in college, it becomes imperative that higher education adjust to these deficiencies. Students in K-12 need to develop the skills to be successful, both as responsible citizens and in their careers.

A national private opinion survey asks if given the opportunity, what would the American public prioritize regarding K-12 education. It was conducted by the think tank Populace. The Purpose of the Education Index calculated is to represent the first of its kind private opinion study of the American people’s priorities for the future of education in America. Basically, it found that “College Should No Longer Be the End Goal of K-12 Education.” “Practical Skills & Outcomes Should Be the End Goal.” And while respondents do not want schools instructing students on social norms, they firmly believe that a student demonstrating character (e.g., honesty, kindness, integrity, and ethics) should be a vital marker of a school’s success.

This report is music to my ears as it highlights key skill development and the importance of developing the characteristics of ethical behavior.

Critical thinking skills enable us to take a broader look at our behavior before deciding on a course of action. It enables us to think about developing the whole person. It has the potential to enhance wellness in society.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 21, 2023. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Steve’s activities by checking out his website at: Follow me on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: