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Critical Thinking

By Sean Petersen

In August through the 2015 year, I graduated from Salt Lake Community College with
my first degree. I have ambitions to complete a bachelors degree, but decided to continue with
classes through Salt Lake Community College for various reasons. I decided to enroll into a
Business 1050 class and while we were going through the first week of class, a fellow student
made a comment to the instructor asking a familiar, yet challenging question: When are we ever
going to use this?
Of course, this is a question that I had thought many times to myself going through
various courses and lessons plans through my college degree. I frequently thought Im going to
school for Criminal Justice, why the heck I should have to take a humanities class? Why do I
need psychology 1010? and further questions were packed on abstract ideas packed into the
classes. I had what I thought was a clear line toward my career and viewed other classes and
concepts not directly related to that path as an unfortunate waste of time.
I fortunately, was able to answer my colleagues question before enrolling into the
business class. As I approached the final requirements of my degree I enrolled into the final class
required for my degree in the summer of 2015, it was a mathematics class. As the instructor
presented increasingly complex and unusual ideas, the question:When are we ever going to use
this? appeared with increasing frequency. The instructor had a very obvious and somewhat
humorous answer to this common question. She said You probably wont, but if you think about
it, you will.
She didnt really go deeper into the question, but she made a point that was clear as mud.
You are taking the Math class because math is an effective way to exercise independent thinking
using deductive and inductive reasoning. The instructor recognized and acknowledged that we
would not be using the specific lessons she was teaching us if we werent going on to become
engineers or architects. I came to realize that you can know everything that there is to know
about a particular subject, topic, profession, or concept, but what happens when something new
pops up? What happens when youre presented with a problem that you have limited or no
experience with? This is a dilemma that everyone will face in their professional and personal
lives. How well you handle it will depend on how well you are able to think about problem and
recognize all aspects, perceptions, and possible outcomes of the information youre presented
with. How well can you critically think?
Fortunately for me, I enrolled into a Business class 3 weeks later. Unbeknownst to me,
the book to the aforementioned class was titled Critical Thinking and right off on the first
week, I was able to further explore this fresh idea of how important critical thinking was. I was
particularly interested in reading about your perception of things and how your prior knowledge.
I found this concept to be ambiguous. How could you perceive something to be right if its
wrong?

I went on to think about optical illusions. I


then thought about how if you took the time to
actually dissect and think about an optical illusion,
you could figure out the right or fact based
answer, which would differ from what someone
who quickly examined something and gave it no
thought. It was a lesson of the importance of
thinking things through.
The class continued, and while the first
chapter was the only one clearly and completely
dedicated toward critical thinking, everything else was oriented around it. The next concept to
really make an impact on my idea of critical thinking was our conversations regarding capitalism
and its history. I had already known that capitalism was a free market idea where there were
no rules and anything went. But something new was presented. The chapter described how great
thing capitalism was. The idea that capitalism was good for everyone, not just the people taking
advantage of, or exploiting things was foreign to me.
I began to think about how that concept could actually come to be, and with some
explaining for the instructor, it became clearer. I was able to take a step back and analyze all the
aspects of it. On one hand, there is an opportunity for powerful people and organizations to bully
or monopolize certain industries that have obvious negative effects on the majority; there are
some hidden benefits to capitalism if you take the time to break down the idea.
Firstly, when there are no regulations or restrictions on a market, profits are maximized.
This has a hidden benefit of beneficiaries of a business profit having more money to spend.
When these persons or organizations spend their money, they create profits for other industries
and the process is cycled again and again exponentially. Fortunately for the working class this
means that demand will increase and as such, industries will want to supply more to meet those
demands, meaning there is a higher need for workers and this also opens up the possibilities to
negotiate higher wages or benefits.
Prior to this class, I personally only saw the negative aspects of capitalism. I always
thought of coal miners who couldnt ever get out of work or predatory loan business like pay day
loans you see today. I always assumed more regulation ensured consumers and workers were
protected, but after exercising the critical thinking previously mentioned, I was able to identify
and list several positive benefits behind pure capitalism.
The class proceeded on and we discussed several other topics, but one caught my
interests and exercised the idea of critical thinking more than any other. Toward the end of the
semester, we talked about climate change. Not just the idea of it being real but who is really to
blame for it and who is responsible to solve it. It was very interesting when the instructor asked

all of us who is to blame for climate change? He was referring to the destruction of a small
forrest, not necessarily the entire planet. The class stood their blank and I sat their silent as well,
faintly thinking to blame the massive industrialized companies or oil groups taking over the land.
But after thinking back, I recalled that oil wouldnt be successful if I didnt buy it. The instructor
then proceeded to cite 6 potential and logical points to blame. Some of it was legislative
regarding lax regulations, some of the blame lied within me as a consumer, but interestingly,
some of the blame sat with the native people of the forest.
I found this idea foreign. How could you blame the victim, especially when this victim is
a small group up against a massive multibillion dollar industry? Then I considered an unsettling
idea. The people who were to desperately defending their land and pleading for its protection
were the same people who agreed to let it happen in the first place. You could argue that these
people were willing victims.
That phrase, willing victims was something that sat with me and taught me an
important lesson in critical thinking. I already had placed value in analyzing as much information
as you could. But I learned that to be effective with critical thinking, you have to accept all
factual information, even information that you strongly dislike. I learned that it was important to
not let your thinking exercises be clouded and poisoned by ideas that you dont agree with.