Critical Thinking

m36hxr2w-1407504333This is based on a most interesting article (the link will come up later, and all quotes come from it). maybe the reason that I am interested in teaching is that I have a rather mediocre education. Yep, I do. I was thirteenth out of fifty-nine in my class, and a very poor grounding in math. not good training to be either an engineer or a pilot which were my dreams.

Not that I’m complaining, as my brother-in-law said, I can do the work, I just couldn’t get through college, at least in engineering. And i didn’t want to spend my life in an office, either. But what you see in me today is the result of years of learning, and teaching, not with any fancy theories but simply with the pragmatic experience of what works.

In truth, no knowledge is wasted, in my field, I can walk into a house and tell when (within a few years) when it was wired, and that gives me an insight on what I’ll have to do to fix the problem.

No, it’s not foolproof, but it’s a lot better than nothing. The same is true in nearly all fields. And the key is rational, objectivity. What we want has nothing to do with it. It is what it is. And to me that the key.

The need for teachers to engage in this kind of deep conversation has been forgotten, because they think that being critical is a skill. But the Australian philosopher John Passmore criticised this idea nearly half a century ago:

If being critical consisted simply in the application of a skill then it could in principle be taught by teachers who never engaged in it except as a game or defensive device, somewhat as a crack rifle shot who happened to be a pacifist might nevertheless be able to teach rifle-shooting to soldiers. But in fact being critical can be taught only by men who can themselves freely partake in critical discussion.

Very true, and you can see it when you are around people who think, and especially listen to what others say. I’ve always said that I don’t need to know everything, I simply need to know where to find the information and how to apply it.

  1. Critical thinking” is a skill. No it is not. At best this view reduces criticism to second-rate or elementary instruction in informal and some formal logic. It is usually second-rate logic and poor philosophy offered in bite-sized nuggets. Seen as a skill, critical thinking can also mean subjection to the conformism of an ideological yoke. If a feminist or Marxist teacher demands a certain perspective be adopted this may seem like it is “criticism” or acquiring a “critical perspective”, but it is actually a training in feminism or Marxism which could be done through tick box techniques. It almost acquires the character of a mental drill.

  2. “Critical thinking” means indoctrination. When teachers talk about the need to be “critical” they often mean instead that students must “conform”. It is often actually teaching students to be “critical” of their unacceptable ideas and adopt the right ones. Having to support multiculturalism and diversity are the most common of the “correct ideas” that everyone has to adopt. Professional programmes in education, nursing, social work and others often promote this sort of “criticism”. It used to be called “indoctrination”.
  3. “Critical theories” are “uncritical theories”. When some theory has the prefix “critical” it requires the uncritical acceptance of a certain political perspective. Critical theory, critical race theory, critical race philosophy, critical realism, critical reflective practice all explicitly have political aims.

 

Yep, especially in the soft sciences, where it is often difficult to prove or disprove a thesis, and especially when the concept of right and wrong (sometimes that should read good and evil) is dispensed with.

Criticism, according to Victorian cultural critic Matthew Arnold, is a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. We should all be as “bound” by that definition as he was. We need only to teach the best that is known and thought and “criticism” will take care of itself. That is a lesson from 150 years ago that every teacher should learn.

Critical thinking seen as Arnold defined it is more like a character trait – like having “a critical spirit”, or a willingness to engage in the “give and take of critical discussion”. Criticism is always about the world and not about you.

Do read it all Let’s stop trying to teach students critical thinking, it’s simply outstanding.

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

14 Responses to Critical Thinking

  1. Mike says:

    Nice essay. Critical thinking begins with listening, an activity not too many people do these days. Too many instead opt for telling. Critical thinking takes time to learn. In the factory education system, where education is to only cost the student a few bucks and not cost the taxpayer too much more, the time for one-to-one and small group discussion and debate just isn’t available.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Much truth in that Mike, and yet I wonder if the money is really all that important. I think it has more to do with teachers who want to teach, rather than make excuses.

      Like

      • Mike says:

        We work for a combination of the two, we enjoy what we do and we need the money. It’s difficult to separate them. Excuses? Consider it a ten second explanation.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I wasn’t referring to you (or those like you) but they do exist. The workman is worthy of his hire and I have wonderful memories of many of my teachers (and professors) whom set me off on a lifetime of learning. An explanation is not an excuse, and I’ll be more careful, in the future.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Mike says:

          There is a lot of dead wood in schools and colleges. Most didn’t start out that way. Over time, however, they lost enthusiasm for the work but liked the money. These days college teaching is increasingly conducted by staff who are hired semester-to-semester or at best year-to-year. If they become lazy or ineffective the dead wood is cleared. Those with tenure do pretty much what they want.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          That’s pretty much my understanding, and in truth it wasn’t all that different in the 70s when I was at Purdue, for that matter. Sometimes I think it is more a problem of size than anything else.

          Like

        • Mike says:

          Ahhh, Purdue in the ’70s. Been there. Done that. 🙂

          I don’t remember many of the professors much giving a darn about what happened. Most of my teachers were grad students except for the “big hall” lectures where the star came in front of the class, talked for an hour and then left. The grad students cared to the extent that they didn’t want any complaints since they needed the assistantship to pay for school.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, tracks with mine. I played with my schedule and got into an overflow survey section taught separately by the oldest associate prof in the joint (he didn’t like to publish). That was good. the big hall lectures were a total waste of time and space.

          The TAs were mostly useless but, some were cute 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great subject here, “Critical Thinking”! And Western Philosophy should be required again even as early at the 13-14 school age! As it has been said, “Philosophy is human thought become self-conscious.” Indeed life, the universe, and just everything!

    For us Brits, one thinks of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary here! http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I don’t disagree but despair of finding people to teach it properly. Good link, too.

      Like

      • It used to be, least back in my Irish Brit day, that Catholics were at least introduced to Western Philosophy, as too basically and generally most all of the British, at least in college! That’s what brought my mind back to old Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. And in God’s providence my first degree was a BA in Western Philosophy from a Catholic college. But that was in the mid 70’s, sadly now it seems to have changed! But indeed “how” one teaches it is surely important!

        Like

        • NEO says:

          From what I read, the workload (on students) has been dramatically lightened. I have some numbers somewhere, I’ll try to dig them out, this post is, I suspect, not an anomaly for this year.

          Like

        • Indeed so much of my life and learning seems to have come “per accidens” (Latin, by accident), but then I know it has all been part of God’s Providence! Blessings indeed! I only wish we could instill this mystery and desire in our young people today! Nothing comes by chance! God does not play dice!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          That’s why this is here. The important thing is to teach kids to sheer joy of learning. If we can do that, the rest will solve itself, for the most part.

          Liked by 1 person

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