Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity, but most of it is dormant and undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, ballet, or playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn. As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don't do the work required for improvement.
Development in thinking is a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker by simply taking a beginning course. Changing one's habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker, which we examined briefly in Chapter 3, require an extended period of development.
Here are the stages we go through if we aspire to develop as thinkers (Figure 5.1):
Stage 1 The Unreflective Thinker (we are unaware of significant problems in our thinking)
Stage 2 The Challenged Thinker (we become aware of problems in our thinking)
Stage 3 The Beginning Thinker (we try to improve, but without regular practice)
Stage 4 The Practicing Thinker (we recognize the necessity of regular practice)
Stage 5 The Advanced Thinker (we advance in accordance with our practice)
Stage 6 The Master Thinker (skilled and insightful thinking becomes second nature)
In this chapter, we will explain the first four stages with the hope that understanding these stages, even at a provisional level, will help you begin to grasp what is necessary in order to develop as a thinker. Only through years of advanced practice can one become an "advanced" or "master" thinker.