Blog Post: [Part 1] The Critical Thinking Movement in Historical Perspective

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Apr 27, 2022 • 109d ago
[Part 1] The Critical Thinking Movement in Historical Perspective

{"ops":[{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Abstract"},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"In this paper, originally published in "},{"insert":"National Forum"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":" (1985), Richard Paul discusses the history of education in the United States from the standpoint of critical thinking. He stresses the traditional U.S. emphasis, evident from the earliest days of education, on passive learning, training, and indoctrination. He begins with a characterization of 17th"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"century attitudes and then traces the dominant view of education from initial European settlers to 20th century critiques of education."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nThe “critical thinking movement” is beginning to have a palpable effect on the day-to-day life of American schooling. California is a bellwether in this regard. Four years ago, the massive 19-campus California State University system instituted a graduation requirement in critical thinking intended to achieve:\n \n. . . an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, leading to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nWithin two years the even larger community college system established a parallel requirement. And now, two years further down the line, the California State Department of Education is preparing to test all 8"},{"attributes":{"script":"super"},"insert":"th"},{"insert":" grade students in three areas: reading and written expression, math, and social studies. Remarkably, and representing a strikingly new testing emphasis, approximately one-third of the items were designed to test critical thinking skills. David Gordon, California’s Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction, recently said that he considered the state at the very beginning of a series of reforms in this direction, including textbooks, curriculum, staff development, and teacher education.\n \nUntil recently the movement was no more than a small scattered group of educators calling for a shift from a didactic paradigm of knowledge and learning to a Socratic, critically-reflective one. Its early stirrings can be traced back to and beyond Edward Glaser’s "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking"},{"insert":" (1941) and his development with Watson of the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal"},{"insert":" (1940).\n \nOf course, its deepest intellectual roots are ancient, traceable to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,400 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Since his time, Socrates’ insight has been variously articulated by a scattering of intellectuals, certainly by the 18th, and increasingly in the 19th and 20th centuries; Voltaire, John Henry Newman, John Stuart Mill, and William Graham Sumner are a few that come readily to mind. Consider Mill:\n \n. . . since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ("},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"On Liberty"},{"insert":", 1859)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nOr Newman:\n \n. . . knowledge is not a mere extrinsic or accidental advantage, . . . which may be got up from a book, and easily forgotten again . . . which we can borrow for the occasion, and carry about in our hand . . . (it is) something intellectual . . . which reasons upon what it sees . . . the action of a formative power . . . making the objects of our knowledge subjectively our own. ("},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Idea of a University"},{"insert":", 1852)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nOr Sumner:\n \nThe critical habit of thought, if usual in a society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. People educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators and are never deceived by dithyrambic oratory. They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probably in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis and confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens. ("},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Folkways"},{"insert":", 1906)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nThis view of knowledge and learning holds that beliefs without reason and the judgment of the learner behind them are for that learner mere prejudices, and that critical reflection on the part of each and every learner is an essential precondition of knowledge and of rational action. Until now this view has made little headway against a deeply if unconsciously held contrary mind-set. The everyday world – especially in the U.S.A. where the agenda has been filled with one pragmatic imperative after another, a nation with a “mission” to perform and a “destiny” to fulfill – provides little time for self-formed, self-reasoned beliefs.\n"}]}

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