Blog Post: [Part 1] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

Richard Paul Archives
Mar 14, 2023 • 354d ago
[Part 1] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

{"ops":[{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":"Abstract"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Written for "},{"insert":"Thinking: The Second International Conference (1987), "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"this paper explores a series of themes familiar to Richard Paul’s readers: that most school learning is irrational rather than rational, that there are two different modes of critical thinking and hence two different kinds of critical persons, that strong sense critical thinking is embedded in the ancient Socratic ideal of living an examined life, and that social studies instruction today is, in the main, sociocentric. Paul illustrates this last point with items from a state department of education critical thinking test and illustrations from a popular university-level introductory political science text. Paul closes with an argument in favor of a new emphasis on developing the critical thinking abilities of teachers: “If, in our haste to bring critical thinking into the schools, we ignore the need to develop long-term strategies for nurturing the development of teachers’ own critical powers and passions, we shall surely make the new emphasis on critical thinking into nothing more than a passing fad, or worse, into a new, more sophisticated form of social indoctrination and scholastic closedmindedness.”"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":"Introduction"},{"insert":"\n \nAs the clarion call for critical thinking instruction from kindergarten to graduate school grows louder, those responsible for classroom instruction, heavily overworked as they typically are, naturally look for simple answers to the question, “What is critical thinking?”, answers that generate routine and simple in-service strategies. Few see, in fact many "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"resist "},{"insert":"seeing, how much of what is deeply ingrained in standard instructional procedures and theory needs serious reformation before students truly become critical thinkers in their daily personal, professional, and civic lives.\n \nThis chapter clarifies and develops some of the theoretical and practical implications of the concept of critical thinking. I consider the work of some of the leading critical thinking theorists. I contrast my views with the general approach of cognitive psychologists. I use social studies throughout to illustrate the problem. I, along with most critical thinking theorists, believe that global insights into the multifaceted obstacles to critical reflection, inquiry, and discussion on the part of students, teachers, and people in general are crucial to sound design of critical thinking instruction. Such insights are severely limited unless one clearly and coherently grasps the “big picture.” For example, few pay attention to John Passmore’s claims that “being critical can be taught only by persons who can themselves freely participate in critical discussion” and that, “In many systems of public instruction . . . it is a principal object of teacher training to turn out teachers who will firmly discourage free critical discussion.” Rarely do teachers grasp where and when “free critical discussion” is essential, what it means to conduct it, and what is required to empower students to pursue it with understanding and self-command. What follows, I hope, contributes something to those foundational understandings, to the insights on which successful critical thinking instruction depends.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":"Rational and Irrational Learning"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nAll rational learning presupposes rational assent. And, though we sometimes forget it, all learning is not automatically or even commonly rational. Much that we learn in everyday life is quite irrational. It is quite possible – and indeed the bulk of human learning is unfortunately of this character – to come to believe any number of things without knowing how or why. It is quite possible, in other words, to believe for irrational reasons: because those around us believe, because we are rewarded for believing, because we are afraid to disbelieve, because our vested interest is served by belief, because we are more comfortable with belief, because we have ego identified ourselves, our image, or our personal being with belief. In all these cases, our beliefs are without rational grounding, without good reason and evidence, without the foundation a rational person demands. We become rational, on the other hand, to the extent that our beliefs and actions are grounded in good reasons and evidence; to the extent that we recognize and critique our own irrationality; to the extent that we are not moved by bad reasons and a multiplicity of irrational motives, fears, desires; to the extent that we have cultivated a passion for clarity, accuracy, and fairmindedness. These global skills, passions, and dispositions integrated into a way of acting and thinking characterize the rational, the educated, and in my sense, the critical person.\n \nNo one, in this view, is ever "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"fully"},{"insert":" educated. Hence, we should view rational learning not as something completed by schooling but as something struggling to emerge against deep-seated, irrational, and uncritical tendencies and drives. Schools can be structured to foster belief without regard to rational justification. To make rational belief a probable outcome of schooling requires special design and distinctive commitment.\n"}]}

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