university education. Critical thinking requires that the thinker consider all elements of an idea, concept or statement. There is a wide range of such elements, including the motives of the communicator, the subtext, the timing and more. The ability to analyze these elements and to criticize them and to make conclusions based on sound inferences about these elements is core to critical thinking (Freeley & Steinberg, 2008). Worldview is just one of the different elements that must be considered in the context of critical thinking. However, it is a trap to fall into the idea that all worldviews should be given equal consideration -- some can be substantiated with facts while others cannot; some are more objective while others are more subjective. Indeed, attempts to be more inclusive of worldviews often suffer from the same myopia that characterizes non-inclusion.
As part of their learning in university, students should be exposed to a wide range of world views. The messages that are conveyed in either the university setting or in the "real world" are both subject to the biases of worldview. A person's worldview is often in the background of their writing, and academia is no exception to this logical flaw (Walters, 1994) so it is important to consider the worldview of the narrator in order to better understand the narrative. Indeed, most thinking is based on some underlying ideology, even if that ideology is a strong preference for rationality and objectivity. Walters (1994) notes that mainstream critical thinking "tends to equate good thinking with logical thinking, and thereby necessarily disenfranchises ways of thinking…that do not strictly conform to the standards of logical analysis." Critical thinking helps the student to interpret the work on the basis of understanding the worldview that underlies that work.
Critical thinking is also important because it helps the student to understand his or her own underlying worldview, and how that worldview helps to frame his or her understanding of the different material. University students should be able to identify their own biases, defend them, and understand how those biases impact on the way that they relate to specific course material. The underlying worldview of any narrative should be considered in order to understand the entire message and motivations of that narrative. This requires an understanding of some of the different worldviews that exist.
One of the common errors made is to set narrow limits on the worldviews to be considered. Christian educational commentators demand their worldview be considered on a par with scientific worldviews, for example (Rusbult, 2003). Yet this position reveals two underlying worldviews: that the narrator's worldview is of equal validity to the scientific and that there are no other equal worldviews that should be taken into consideration. If anything, Buddhism has a much richer scientific tradition, Islam once did and Hindu mysticism is a further major worldview worthy of consideration, not to mention the multitude of other worldviews that could be incorporated into the discussion. Teaching different worldviews must therefore take into account context, and set the number of valid worldviews accordingly. Some worldviews have no validity -- they are merely unsubstantiated opinions. What critical thinking does is help students to parse through the different worldviews and their own in order to aid in their interpretation of the work in question.
Different worldviews, be they based on culture, religion, gender, social status or race, have an impact on academic writing. Curriculum is affected by the worldviews of the educator or education administrator, and it is important for students to be able to parse through these worldviews. This occurs in different K-12 school systems that offer culture-specific programs, such as the First Nations schools in Canada. In higher education, examples can be found in historically African-American universities, but can also be found in the juxtaposition of liberal schools and more traditional ones. The differences in curriculum can vary significantly depending on the worldview, and it is important that the student either be exposed to a variety of worldviews or at least understand that he or she is subject to education colored by a specific worldview.
Students also carry their own worldviews into the university classroom. At the university level, there is an implicit expectation that students will hold a variety of core worldviews and that they will mingle and share these worldviews to the benefit of all. It is important, therefore, from an administrative perspective to provide a framework for this to happen. This impacts admissions policy, and it also impacts the way that professors structure coursework, perhaps to encourage discussion among the different students. In addition, educators at the university level should ensure to validate the idea of different worldviews and highlight the importance of exposure to them. Without this, students may revert to more defensive responses regarding different worldviews, and thereby fail to gain the most from the university setting. The example above regarding the Christian education illustrates the pitfalls of insisting the worldviews be inclusive only to the point where yours is. The value of exposure to different worldviews is moot if one assumes that one's own worldview should be taught and that once that occurs there is no need to worry about other worldviews. This leads only to an a priori assumption of superiority of one's own worldview, which is antithetical to the idea that exposure to a wide range of worldviews is beneficial to one's education.
A university student has achieved a higher level of critical thinking when underlying worldview becomes an automatic component of his or her analysis process, in addition to the other elements that can frame an argument, and worldview is not considered an inherent reason to write-off an argument. Arguments should still be weighed in terms of their facts and the power of the reason behind them. Understanding worldview, however, is valuable for determining the sources of bias that can undermine the strength of an argument. Adherence to an ideology will open a narrator to a number of logical fallacies. The critical mind can understand the weaknesses -- and by the same token the strengths -- of an argument by understanding the worldview that underlies the narrative.
It should be noted that worldview is not necessarily a source of negative in an argument. Many writers produce narrative specifically in order to express a specific worldview, without any pretense of producing a balanced work. Even the dogmatically logical should be willing to concede that strict adherence to logic is only one worldview, albeit one that they hold great fondness for. Understanding worldview is not simply a means to criticize a work or author, it can be a means to understand the work in question. Revolutionary writers often flaunt their worldview; this does not diminish the relevance of the work, it merely provides a backdrop for understanding the material that they are presenting.
The reader's response to any work will be characterized by his or her worldview, and the degree of synergy between that worldview and the worldview of the author. When a revolutionary writer challenges the status quo, those with revolutionary sympathies will have a different response than those with conservative sympathies. It is incumbent upon the student to understand the degree to which his or her own worldview characterizes his or her response to a work. Critical thinking with respect to worldview applies to all parties in the communication process.
Understanding worldview is just one tool in a critical thinker's toolbox. Arguments are framed by a number of different elements, of which the narrator's worldview is just one. It is unlikely that students can become strong critical thinkers only by analyzing the worldview of the narrator and of themselves. This does not diminish the value of worldview to developing critical thinking skills in university students, but it does illustrate that worldview has its…