Critical Thinking Explained Simply To Impress

In the fall of 1997, I came to Harvard as a freshman, and promptly received my first-ever C on a paper.  I was crushed.

I went to my TF’s office hours and cried.  “But I worked so hard,” I explained tearfully.  And—aalthough I didn’t say it aloud—getting straight A’s was a cherished part of my identity.  (It didn’t occur to me that this was true of all Harvard students; I took the whole thing very personally.)  If I didn’t get A’s, who was I?

My TF, took my tears in stride. Gently, he explained that the grade didn’t mean I was a bad writer or a bad thinker. The problem was that this particular essay lacked direction and organization.  When it was clear that I didn’t understand, he asked, “What is your thesis here?”

Thesis? I had gone to a pretty good public high school, but it was no college prep school. I hadn’t understood what a thesis argument was, or that it should shape your whole paper. I tended to think of my writing as something magical that happened unintentionally; I had never learned to consciously shape an argument and fit evidence to it.

For the next paper, I went to Scott’s office hours ahead of time. He helped me develop an interesting question, and together we crafted a well-worded argument to answer that question (the thesis!). I learned to make each part of the paper relate to that central thesis. It was perhaps the most important lesson of my entire college career.

The difference between high school and college, for me, was that college is about critical thinking, not just description and memorization. You demonstrate critical thinking through argument (not magical unintentional writing). Each paper needs to have a central argument, and everything in the paper should help you make, explain, and prove that thesis. It’s the same process I use now, as an academic-in-training; learning what a thesis was, and how to argue well, set me on my eventual career path.

Now, as a TF, I watch countless students go through this same process, usually in their first or second year.  I have been responsible for causing tears now, too. I’m always sorry that the lesson is so hard, but I don’t try to avoid teaching it. Countless incentives push TFs toward ever-greater grade inflation, which hurts everyone by making grades essentially meaningless. I rarely give full A’s – and yes, occasionally, I give out C’s. My evaluations often read, “Grades too hard,” and I’m sure it lowers my Q-evaluation scores. I do it anyway. I do it so that my students learn something important.

I always remember Scott, and how he didn’t flinch from teaching me a lesson I desperately needed.  I now admire his courage. I try to follow his example, not to hurt my students, but to improve their writing and thinking skills. While many of my students don’t appreciate the help in the moment (and make their displeasure clear), I hope that eventually they will understand that I’m doing my best to help them learn.

A TF who gives you a B+ to avoid your tears is not actually doing you a favor. What do you learn from a B+? It’s a way of letting a student down gently, because we who received A’s all through high school are so touchy about anything lower. But those are the grades that really teach us something. Maybe we all need to learn this lesson sometime. Maybe the experience of a low grade here and there is something of a crucible, out of which we arise better than we were before.

As Harvard students, our obsession with perfection drives us; it can also prevent us from approaching learning with humility and grace. If all of my students were perfect when they entered my class, why would they need to take it? A good class is not actually about the substance of the material; it’s about teaching you how to think and write well. If you can sail through every class with a B+, what have you learned? What have you really gotten from those who are supposed to teach you?

If I were an undergraduate again, I would demand honest grading and more of my teachers’ time and attention to help me correct my mistakes and learn from them. A low grade is not a sign that your TF hates you or thinks you are dumb. It’s not a commentary on your worth as a human being, or your abilities. It means that you have something to learn—and don’t we all? I’m not saying it’s easy to get a C. I vividly remember that hurt and disappointment. But it taught me something, and that something is a big part of who I am today. I wish more of my TFs had been like Scott.

Shauna L. Shames ’01, is a Ph.D. Candidate in the GSAS Department of Government.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Print Options & Processing Times

We'll process standard card orders within 2 business days. Orders placed after 5 PM PST require one additional day processing time. Orders containing foil-stamped cards require one additional day to process. If you selected the professional custom design service, please allow additional time to review the design. Details on available print options can be found here. All cards come with envelopes.

Shipping Methods and Estimated Delivery Times

Orders can be shipped within the United States and Canada and internationally. Standard-shipped orders will take only 3-5 business days to reach you. For more details click here.

Professional Custom Design Process

If you find that you wish to make changes to one of our design templates, we have professional graphic designers standing by, ready to create a custom design just for you! Once you've completed your card to the best of your ability, you'll be taken to a Preview page. At the bottom of that page you'll find a comments field where you can provide us with any instructions you like. With this process you can mix and match designs, change the colors of designs, change fonts and more. Our graphic design staff can custom create a unique card for you for just $25. For details about this process click here.

Whenever necessary, we provide you with a proof within 48 business hours. Your proofs will be emailed to you via our automated system, but please check your junk mail folder as automated emails tend to get caught there often.

Once your final proof is approved by you, the order will be sent to print and our normal processing times (as stated above) apply.

Card Sizes

Having trouble envisioning the sizes of our cards? Print out our Sizing Chart PDF.

Postage Required

Almost all of our products require only one-stamp postage; the exception is square announcements and invitations, which will require additional postage due to USPS regulations. Please check with your local post office or visit usps.com for current postage rates to mail square envelopes.

Voucher Offers & Promo Codes

You can use either one voucher or one promo code per transaction - discount offers can't be combined. If you forget to enter your discount code during your order checkout, don't worry! Simply contact us and we'll add any valid code to your order and credit you the difference. Please note that, unless otherwise stated, a promo code discount replaces any entire site discount. Sale amounts cannot be added together.

How to Submit Photos

You will actually upload your photos when creating your design and placing your order. If you need to send us a replacement photo for any reason, please contact customer care for instructions on how to send the new image.

Black and White or Sepia Photos

You can change any color photos to black and white or sepia coloring by using our online design tool. Our design staff can also do minor "repair work" on your photos as well such as removing blemishes.

Color Matching

Please keep in mind that every computer monitor has different color calibration, and your order may or may not be the exact color variations that you see on your monitor. If you are concerned about the coloring, please request a hard copy proof to be mailed to you for your approval before your entire order is printed. There is a $3.99 fee for a hard copy proof.

Refund Policy

We want you to be 100% happy with your Simply to Impress experience. If for any reason you’re not satisfied with your order, you can return unused product within 30 days of receipt for a replacement or refund, subject to the exceptions found under our Returns/Refunds policy.

One thought on “Critical Thinking Explained Simply To Impress

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *