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 (Part 7 of 8)

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Sep 23, 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 (Part 7 of 8)

{"ops":[{"insert":"This article was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Sonoma State University’s"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":" 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":"\nThe seventh of these appears below.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"IV. Academic Departments, Faculty and Administrators Generally Fail to Foster Critical Thinking"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nIn addition to the special barriers to critical thinking created by philosophy departments already mentioned, faculty in general, and administrators and academic departments in general (including philosophy departments) create numerous barriers to the cultivation of critical thinking across disciplines, including:\n \n1. Many academic departments and faculty presuppose that they are fostering critical thinking, when in fact their expressions of it are often vague and lack any demonstrations as to how one could teach for it. Many academic departments, faculty and administrators tend to trivialize critical thinking, giving lip service to it in mission statements, course catalogues and marketing material, while ignoring it in instruction."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"2. Most faculty and administrators fail to take a longterm approach to professional development in critical thinking."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"A. Faculty Lack Explicit Understanding of Critical Thinking"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nCritical thinking is touted as essential in today’s complex world. But, again, research demonstrates that, though faculty usually believe otherwise, critical thinking is not fostered in the typical college classroom (Gardiner 1995; Paul 1997; Bok, 2006; Arum and Roksa, 2011). In a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education, Lion Gardiner, in conjunction with ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education (1995) documented the following disturbing patterns:\n \n“Faculty agree almost universally that he development of students’ higher-order intellectual or cognitive abilities is the most important educational task of colleges and universities… Specifically, critical thinking – the capacity to evaluate skillfully and fairly the quality of evidence and detect error, hypocrisy, manipulation, dissembling, and bias — is central to both personal success and national needs (pp. 7-8)… Faculty aspire to develop students’ thinking skills, but research consistently shows that in practice we tend to aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines, at the lowest cognitive levels, rather than development of intellect or values… Numerous studies of college classrooms reveal that, rather than actively involving our students in learning, we lecture, even though lectures are not nearly as effective as other means for developing cognitive skills…Studies suggest our methods often "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"fail "},{"insert":"to dislodge students’ misconceptions and ensure learning of complex, abstract concepts. Capacity for problem solving is limited by our use of inappropriately simple practice exercises (pp. iv-v)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"B. The Ground-Breaking Critical Thinking Study: The California Commission"},{"insert":"\n\nGardiner’s summary of the research coincides with the results of a large scale randomized study I conducted with my colleagues, (Paul et. al. 1997) of 38 public colleges and universities and 28 private ones focused on the question: To what extent are faculty teaching for critical thinking? Because this study was conducted for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, a probability sample was employed that gave education faculty greater representation in the sample than other disciplines, but subject matter area faculty from the Life Sciences, the Physical Sciences, History, English, Mathematics, Government, and the Social Sciences were also involved. In the end the sample was comprised of 101 Education faculty (a response rate of 84%) and 39 subject matter faculty (a response rate of 65%) who were extensively interviewed by telephone.\n \nThe study included faculty from colleges and universities across California, and encompassed prestigious universities such as Stanford, Cal Tech, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. In this study, most faculty claimed that they emphasized critical thinking throughout their instruction and that their students internalized important concepts in their courses as a result. Though the majority of faculty stated that intellectual standards were important to instruction, rarely did faculty mention any specific intellectual standards (for example the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, or logically, etc). Very few mentioned even basic intellectual skills such as the ability to clarify purposes; gather relevant data; reason logically; identify important assumptions; trace logical implications, or reason within multiple conflicting points of view. Intellectual dispositions of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, etc.... were rarely mentioned.\n \nThe results were as follows:\n\n 1. Though the overwhelming majority (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction, only a small minority (19%) could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is. Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":" 2. Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"3. While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no allusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"4. When asked how they conceptualized truth, a surprising 41% of those who responded to the question said that knowledge, truth and sound judgment are fundamentally a matter of personal preference or subjective taste."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"5. Although the majority (67%) said that their concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in their thinking, only 19% could elaborate on their concept of thinking."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"6. Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, 77% of the respondents had little, limited or no conception of how to reconcile content coverage with the fostering of critical thinking."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"7. Although the overwhelming majority (81%) felt that their department’s graduates develop a good or high level of critical thinking ability while in their program, only 20% said that their departments had a shared approach to critical thinking, and only 9% were able to clearly articulate how they would assess the extent to which a faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking. The remaining respondents had a limited conception or no conception at all of how to do this."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"8. Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, only a very small minority could clearly explain the meanings of basic terms in critical thinking. For example, only 8% could clearly differentiate between an assumption and an inference, and only 4% could differentiate between an inference and an implication."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"9. Only a very small minority (9%) mentioned the special and/or growing need for critical thinking today in virtue of the pace of change and the complexities inherent in human life. Not a single respondent elaborated on the issue."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"10. In explaining their views of critical thinking, the overwhelming majority (69%) made either no allusion at all, or a minimal allusion, to the need for greater emphasis on peer and student self-assessment in instruction."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"11. From either the quantitative data directly, or from minimal inference from those data, it is clear that a significant percentage of faculty interviewed (and, if our sample is representative, most faculty):"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n • do not understand the connection of critical thinking to intellectual standards,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • are not able to clarify major intellectual criteria and standards,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • inadvertently confuse the active involvement of students in classroom activities with critical thinking in those activities,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • are unable to give an elaborated articulation of their concept of critical thinking,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • cannot provide plausible examples of how they foster critical thinking in the classroom,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • are not able to name specific critical thinking skills they think are important for students to learn,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • are not able to plausibly explain how to reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • do not consider reasoning as a significant focus of critical thinking,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • do not think of reasoning within disciplines as a major focus of instruction,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • cannot specify basic structures essential to the analysis of reasoning,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • cannot give an intelligible explanation of basic abilities either in critical thinking or in reasoning,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • do not distinguish the psychological dimension of thought from the intellectual dimension,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • have had no involvement in research into critical thinking and have not attended any conferences on the subject, and"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" • are unable to name a particular theory or theorist that has shaped their concept of critical thinking."},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n Similar results were visible in a later study conducted in Texas (Phillips & Green, 2011) and in a study conducted by Thomas (1999).\n \nNote that in 1990, in an open letter to educators, I summed up the problem that a robust conception of critical thinking addresses:\n \nMany college and university professors say they have little time to focus on the students’ thinking because of the need to cover content. These professors fail to see that thinking is the only means by which the mind digests content. They fail to see that undigested content is content unlearned or mis-learned. They fail to see that all content is embedded in ideas, that ideas have logical connections, that logical connections must be thought through to be grasped…. Furthermore, though this problem is ancient, the negative consequences are daily becoming more and more significant. The nature of professional and everyday life increasingly demands critical thinking. Indeed, the cost of generating a growing mass of uncritical thinkers as workers and citizens is staggering. Business and industry suffers. Political and civic life suffers. Personal and family life suffers. Many public and private problems can be attributed to the low level of thinking that dominates our lives. Intellectually undisciplined, narrow minded thinking will not solve increasingly complex, multidimensional problems, let alone provide the basis for democratic decision-making."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nThough content can only be learned through thinking, and though the concepts and principles of critical thinking are presupposed in the foundations of every subject and discipline, it remains the case that the problems I outlined in 1990 are still largely ignored in teaching and learning today.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"C. Few Faculty and Administrators Take a Long-Term Approach to Critical Thinking"},{"insert":"\n\nThroughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, critical thinking was one of the new “hot” ideas in schooling, or say rather, the latest fad. Sadly, as is the common way with fads, it was not integrated in a substantive way as core learning. Throughout the past thirty years there have been numerous starts and stops in critical thinking, some successes, most of which have been partial, and many failures. Schools, colleges and universities get on the “critical thinking bandwagon” for a few years, usually because of reaccreditation. They will sometimes host one or a few two-day workshops on critical thinking, or send a team of faculty leaders to a critical thinking conference.\n But educational institutions characteristically lack a longterm vision of critical thinking because they lack, again, a substantive conception of it. In Linda Elder’s article on the importance of long term staff development in critical thinking (Elder, 2010), she lists the following components of an effective program:\n\n1. Choose a substantive conception of critical thinking."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"2. Choose a conception that is explicit, systematic, integrated, transdisciplinary and based in intellectual but non-technical language."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"3. Choose a conception that fosters traits of mind"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"4. Commit to the long run"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"5. Reach for deep administrative commitment"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"6. Establish a leadership team that can move the process forward"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"7. Provide ongoing faculty and staff workshops"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"8. Fund the program"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"9. Be inclusive"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"10. Tie assessment to critical thinking"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nThus far only a handful of institutions have integrated more than a few of these components. Only a select few schools, colleges, and universities have sustained critical thinking over more than a few years.\n"}]}

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