January 7, 2015 14 Comments
This 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.
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.
- “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”.
“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.