Blog Post: [Part 3] Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity, and Citizenship: Teaching for the Intellectual Virtues

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Nov 21, 2022 • 1y ago
[Part 3] Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity, and Citizenship: Teaching for the Intellectual Virtues

{"ops":[{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"[Missed Part 2? "},{"attributes":{"bold":true,"link":""},"insert":"Read it Here"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"]"},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":"The Intellectual and Moral Virtues of the Critical Person"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nOur basic ways of knowing are inseparable from our basic ways of being. How we think reflects who we are. Intellectual and moral virtues or disabilities are intimately interconnected. To cultivate the kind of intellectual independence implied in the concept of strong sense critical thinking, we must recognize the need to foster intellectual (epistemological) humility, courage, integrity, perseverance, empathy, and fairmindedness. A brief gloss on each will suggest how to translate these concepts into concrete examples. Intellectual humility will be my only extended illustration. I will leave to the reader’s imagination what sorts of concrete examples could be marshalled in amplifying the other intellectual virtues.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Intellectual Humility: "},{"insert":"Having a consciousness of the limits of one’s knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice, and limitations of one’s viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs.\n \nTo illustrate, consider this letter from a teacher with a Master’s degree in Physics and Mathematics, with 20 years of high school teaching experience in physics:\n\nAfter I started teaching, I realized that I had learned physics by rote and that I really did not understand all I knew about physics. My thinking students asked me questions for which I always had the standard textbook answers, but for the first time it made me start thinking for myself, and I realized that these canned answers were not justified by my own thinking, and only confused my students who were showing some ability to think for themselves. To achieve my academic goals I had to memorize the thoughts of others, but I had never learned or been encouraged to learn to think for myself."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"This is a good example of what I call intellectual humility and, like all intellectual humility, it arises from insight into the nature of knowing. It is reminiscent of the ancient Greek insight that Socrates was the wisest of the Greeks because only he knew how little he really understood. Socrates developed this insight as a result of extensive, in-depth questioning of the knowledge claims of others. He had to think his way to this insight.\n \nIf this insight and this humility is part of our goal, then most textbooks and curricula require extensive modification, for typically they discourage rather than encourage it. The extent and nature of “coverage” for most grade levels and subjects implies that bits and pieces of knowledge are easily attained, without any significant consideration of the basis for the knowledge claimed in the text or by the teacher. The speed with which content is covered contradicts the notion that students must think in an extended way about content before giving assent to what is claimed. Most teaching and most texts are, in this sense, epistemologically unrealistic and hence foster intellectual arrogance in students, particularly in those with retentive memories who can repeat back what they have heard or read. "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Pretending"},{"insert":" to know is encouraged. Much standardized testing validates this pretense.\n\nThis led Alan Schoenfeld, for example, to conclude that “most instruction in mathematics is, in a very real sense, deceptive and possibly fraudulent”. He cites numerous examples including the following. He points out that much instruction on how to solve word problems in elementary math\n\n . . . is based on the “key word” algorithm, where the student makes his choice of the appropriate arithmetic operation by looking for syntactic cues in the problem statement. For example, the word ‘left’ in the problem “John had eight apples. He gave three to Mary. How many does John have left?” . . . serves to tell the students that subtraction is the appropriate operation to perform. (p. 27)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"He further reports the following:\n\nIn a widely used elementary text book series, 97 percent of the problems “solved” by the key-word method would yield (serendipitously?) the correct answer."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nStudents are drilled in the key-word algorithm so well that they will use subtraction, for example, in almost any problem containing the word ‘left’. In the study from which this conclusion was drawn, problems were constructed in which appropriate operations were addition, multiplication, and division. Each used the word ‘left’ conspicuously in its statement and a large percentage of the students subtracted. In fact, the situation was so extreme that many students chose to subtract in a problem that began “Mr. Left . . . \""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Schoenfeld then provides a couple of other examples, including the following:\n\nI taught a problem-solving course for junior and senior mathematics majors at Berkeley in 1976. These students had already seen some remarkably sophisticated mathematics. Linear algebra and differential equations were old hat. Topology, Fourier transforms, and measure theory were familiar to some. I gave them straightforward theorem from plane geometry (required when I was in the tenth grade). Only two of the eight students made any progress on it, some of them by using arc length integrals to measure the circumference of a circle. (Schoenfeld, 1979). Out of the context of normal course work these students could not do elementary mathematics."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"He concludes:\n\nIn sum: all too often we focus on a narrow collection of well-defined tasks and train students to execute those tasks in a routine, if not algorithmic fashion. Then we test the students on tasks that are very close to the ones they have been taught. If they succeed on those problems, we and they congratulate each other on the fact that they have learned some powerful mathematical techniques. In fact, they may be able to use such techniques mechanically while lacking some rudimentary thinking skills. To allow them, and ourselves, to believe that they “understand” the mathematics is deceptive and fraudulent."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"This approach to learning in math is paralleled in all other subjects. Most teachers got through their college classes mainly by “learning the standard textbook answers” and were neither given an opportunity nor encouraged to determine whether what the text or the professor said was “justified by their own thinking”. To move toward intellectual humility, most teachers need to question most of what they learned, as the teacher above did, but such questioning would require intellectual courage, perseverance, and confidence in their own capacity to reason and understand subject matter through their own thought. Most teachers have not done the kind of analytic thinking necessary for gaining such perspective.\n"}]}

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