Blog Post: Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I (Parts 1 & 2 of 8)

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May 27, 2021 • 2y ago
Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I (Parts 1 & 2 of 8)

{"ops":[{"insert":"This article was published in the Fall 2011 issue of "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines"},{"insert":" (vol. 26, no. 3) and was titled, “Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I.” (Part II was published in the Spring 2012 issue.)\n \nThe piece was divided into eight sections:\n\nAbstract"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Introduction"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"I. My Intellectual Journey"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"II. Barriers to the Cultivation of Critical Thinking"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"III. Forms and Manifestations of Critical Thinking, Mapping the Field"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"IV. The Establishment of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"V. Academic Departments, Faculty and Administrators Generally Fail to Foster Critical Thinking"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"VI Conclusion"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n The first and second of these appear below.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Abstract"},{"insert":"\nThis paper is a response to "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"INQUIRY "},{"insert":"editor Frank Fair’s invitation to me to write a reflective piece that sheds light on my involvement in the field of Critical Thinking Studies (some 35 years). My response is in two parts. The two parts together might be called “Reflections on the nature of critical thinking and on its status across the college/university curriculum.” The parts together have been written with a long term and large-scale end in view. If successful the two parts will shed light on why the critical thinking movement has not yet contributed significantly to human emancipation or to more just and fair-minded communities (world wide). It will also present some strategies for making such a contribution.\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Key words: "},{"insert":"critical thinking, Richard Paul, barriers to critical thinking, critical thinking across the curriculum, critical thinking in everyday life, philosophy of education, critical thinking theorists, critical thinking studies, egocentric thinking, sociocentric thinking, weak-sense critical thinking, selfish critical thinking, strong-sense critical thinking, fair-minded thinkers, money in academia, politics in academia, emancipatory thinkers, Socrates, force and reason, education administration, critical thinking conference, critical thinking professional development, substantive critical thinking, Linda Elder, Gerald Nosich.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Introduction"},{"insert":"\nMy perspective, as everyone’s, is only partially shaped by research in the tight sense of the word. I believe that the integrity of my views, including those views shaped broadly by experience and not precisely by scientific study, require representation in this paper (if those who read the paper are to grasp truly what has come to embody my personal perspective). The reader should keep in mind that I was invited to write a reflective piece based on my personal experience. This is what I have done. I was not asked to write a traditional research paper, and I have not done so. I have summarized some of the scientific studies that support my views in general; but I have not assembled further “hard data” than what is readily available on the Foundation for Critical Thinking website Finally, I will be calling for research in virtually all the major sections of the paper. The field of Critical Thinking Studies is in need of on-going systematic research. My perceptions do not substitute for it.\n \nTo those readers of this paper looking to see the development of my conception of critical thinking “anchored to specific events, people, etc.” let me suggest review of the archives of the international conference for critical thinking and educational reform. Each program of conference proceedings documents the historical events which provide a rich context for the development of my views in relation to the views canvassed in the many sessions of the conference. For example, review of the program of the 15th international conference program documents what I have called the first, second, and third waves of critical thinking research. The development of my own views parallels these three “waves.”\n\nThis paper, then, is the first of two. Its first half is mainly personal and historical in nature. The second, forthcoming in "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"INQUIRY "},{"insert":"Vol. 27 No. 1 (Spring 2012), highlights difficulties one faces in contextualizing critical thinking in multiple domains. It might be called, “Critical Thinking: Foundations Applied Across the Disciplines.” In these reflections I focus on the important pay-offs of critical thinking, the issues we face in advocating it, and the strategies we must adopt if we want to be successful in achieving it as a personal, social, and cultural paradigm.\n \nThe first of the two parts focus on the observation, or claim if you will, that insofar as the critical thinking movement is viewed against the backdrop of a worldwide struggle of “force versus reason,” force has been dominant in the struggle. The opening of the struggle might well begin with Socrates against the government of ancient Athens. Socrates’ struggle was motivated by his personal conviction that human intellectual freedom is, though unrealized, a universal right. The struggle, from Socrates to this day, I argue, has been one-sided. The side of “force” has been manifested in a series of historical decisions and acts in favor, if you will, of the views, vested interest, and dominance of self-aggrandizing politicians, government and tribal representatives, warriors, kings, popes, priests, and many other authority figures.\n \nThe second part of this two-part article focuses on the fundamentals of critical thinking theory. All the ideas in it have been expressed in non-technical terms and expressions, readily intelligible to literate language users. Thus the paper is expressed in “ordinary” language. Going further, the account I provide of critical thinking and its application can be verified or “validated” in a range of academic fields as well as in a set of domains of knowledge not yet officially recognized as fields of knowledge by academia. Thus, if readers of this paper understand the fundamentals of critical thinking as I have expressed them, they should be able to contextualize them in any given domain of knowledge. In these projects there were two principal authors: myself and Linda Elder. The collection of monographs is entitled "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Thinkers’ Guides to Critical Thinking"},{"insert":". Thus far we have constructed these monographs in the following diverse subjects:\n \nClinical Reasoning"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Engineering Reasoning"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Analytic Thinking"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Essential Questions"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Scientific Thinking"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Critical reading (How to Read a Paragraph)"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Critical writing (How to Write a Paragraph)"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Media literacy (How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda)"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How to Study and Learn"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The Human Mind"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Foundations of Ethical Reasoning"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How to improve Student Learning"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Socratic Questioning"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Critical Thinking for Children"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Critical and Creative Thinking"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Critical Thinking Competency Standards"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Educational Fads"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Critical Reading and Writing Test"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nOf course, the degree to which the critical thinking constructs we have framed will be intuitive to theoreticians reading them, will depend on whether the contextualizations represent domains of thought with which the theoreticians are independently and intellectually familiar. This point is illuminated in Gerald Nosich’s personal experiment with this model (Nosich, 2011). Unfortunately, many researchers and scholars in higher education have not become sufficiently motivated to test our approach to critical thought in a personal and experiential way. For a range of institutions encouraging their faculty to test our model across the disciplines, visit For research on the model, visit\n\nIn my personal perspective, I see three especially significant domains of problematic work in the field of Critical Thinking Studies: 1) theory developed without adequate regard to practice (for example, philosophers who see philosophical issues in critical thinking as standing alone largely independent of practice ), 2) practice developed largely independent of theory (for example, educators who think that strategies for teaching critical thinking can be developed without theory), and 3) theory and application developed without adequate attention to politics (for example, educators who see economics and politics as a distraction rather than as a reality that must be dealt with intellectually). These fragmented approaches to critical thinking obscure the ethical responsibility academicians owe to the university and the public. My view is that, taken as a whole, higher education has not fulfilled its commitment to critical thinking and hence to the concept of education it generates. Higher education has often fallen prey to lower order politics, inadequate theory, ineffective practice, and, in general, an impoverished sense of history.\n\nHistorically (from Socrates to the present), the overriding problem of a potential field of Critical Thinking Studies has remained the same. Collectively speaking, we face in the field a messy, multilayered, three-fold set of questions whose settlements are so intertwined that no single question in the set can be adequately answered without taking into account how one proposes to answer the other two questions (in the set). In this case, the layers consist in 1) basic theory of critical thinking, 2) pedagogy appropriate to the teaching and learning of that theory, and 3) integration of both into the struggle for power in everyday life. By treating each question in this intertwined set as if each were open to isolated settlement, one renders it likely that little progress will be made on any, and, instead, that inquiry will descend into fruitless argumentation.\n\nUltimately, what we need are people skilled in fairminded critical thinking to work together to construct intellectual structures essential to communities and societies that honor critical thinking as a core value. In other words, critical thinking as a core value implies academics and insightful citizens with special skills and traits, namely, persons so educated that they can think multi-logically, who can move up and back between theory and practice, and who, ultimately, can articulate the interrelations between pedagogic practice and practice that transfers beyond academics into the messy world of everyday human realities.\n \nThe thoughts above are intended to provide a broad scope to this paper and its background logic.\n"}]}

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