First, let's define critical thinking. It is not, as another recent article on io9 suggests, about criticism, literary or otherwise.
As you can see, if you follow the link, the definitions of critical thinking are often quite detailed and indeed, will even question themselves. Critical thinking is a process. Much like a verb, it has action; it moves forward.
For the purpose of this particular essay, let's take on the definition that critical thinking is:
"Critical thinking is a process that begins with an argument and progresses
toward evaluation. The process is activated by three interrelated activities:
a. Asking key questions designed to identify and assess what is being said,
b. Answering those questions by focusing on their impact on stated inferences, and
c. Displaying the desire to deploy critical questions" (Browne and Keeley, 2000). (thanks to http://www.ius.edu/ilte/pdf/criti… for the quote—I will certainly remove it, if you are not pleased with its inclusion and go directly to the source.)
So. Criticism is something else entirely, both a subset of critical theory in academia (good grief, don't make me explain this one) or that moment when you realize that if your mother tells you she hates your clothes one more time, you are going to scream. I kid, but criticism is not critical thinking.
We do need to teach this skill, and it is a skill that students must learn. Students need to know how to take an argument apart and recognize logical fallacies (mistakes in reasoning). They are not born knowing how to do this. No one is. It is a skill to be taught. There are levels and lessons to help recognize these mistakes in argumentation. There are ways to discern the key components that make an argument work.
This skill is especially important in the United States where a certain subset of political figures have decided critical thinking is not a good thing for people to have. There's a reason for this push against critical thinking. Good critical thinkers ask lots and lots of questions. They examine motivations. They question their leaders, especially. They also recognize that critical thinking is something that is thousands of years old and was not invented in the United States to thwart large corporations and their will.
As a teacher, the best thing one can do for one's student is to leave them full of questions and with ways to answer those questions themselves. It is strange, but you know critical thinking is happening when the student turns and says, "Okay, I thought I understood, but now, I'm confused. I have to think about this for awhile." Whatever decision they make next, they've started the process of pulling their arguments apart and learning why they feel the way that they feel about certain events, and what that might mean. They've learned it's all very complicated and that it's best to question everything, even, perhaps especially, the teacher.
To learn critical thinking is to learn to teach yourself. So, yes, we do need it.
**This argument is a very simplified one. I leave out lots of philosophical parts on purpose. But, if you want to learn more, here are some various websites to consider:
These are a but a few places to go and learn about the study of this very necessary skill.
**Edited to add: Yes, I understand what the potential final conclusion of the io9 article is, that we need to do a better job teaching critical thinking. However, not only is that not what gets communicated in the article, the piece itself does a grave disservice to teachers, by assuming they are getting it wrong without offering a single bit of evidence. That claim really undermines his argument.