Many Core courses engage students in the process of studying phenomena — texts, of course, but all sorts of phenomena — through critical frameworks. Some professors will use the terms critical frameworks, analytical frameworks, and critical lenses synonymously. In some instances, they’ll ask students to think theoretically. A theory is, in fact, a critical framework/analytical framework/etc. Think about what your Core professors are usually asking you to do when an assignment entails looking at something — again, it’s most often a text — through a critical/analytical framework/lens.
For all the academic language that frames the question, the task can be broken down to something fairly simple: They are asking you to note how a framework focuses your view of the object on certain elements versus all elements. For example, feminist theory, Marxist theory, and psychoanalytic theory are all interested in certain ways of knowing the object under investigation — not all ways of knowing the object — which is why the theories vary. Likewise, a student who has been asked to consider a familiar North American landscape through the critical lens of the Japanese wabi sabi aesthetic has been asked to bring the object of study into focus by looking at how it demonstrates or does not demonstrate the aesthetic values associated with wabi sabi.
Does limiting your view of an object of study in this way not…limit your view? It does, yes. Examining something through a more focused lens, or framework, or whatever you want to call it offers depth of examination over breadth. It’s a tradeoff we make to understand something deeply, to know something in a particular way.