Blog Post: Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 2 of 8 - 'No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning')

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Feb 09, 2021 • 2y ago
Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 2 of 8 - 'No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning')

{"ops":[{"insert":"This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:\n\n“Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“Conclusion”"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nThe second of these sections appears below.\n\n \nGiven the complexity of critical thinking – its rootedness in 2500 years"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" of intellectual history as well as the wide range of its application – it is unwise to put too much weight on any one “definition\" of critical thinking. Any brief formulation of what critical thinking is is bound to have important limitations. Some theoreticians well established in the literature have provided us with a range of useful “definitions,\" each with their limitations. In Educating Reason:"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","italic":true},"insert":" Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education, "},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":"Harvey Siegel (1988) defines critical thinking as “thinking [that is] appropriately moved by reasons\". This definition highlights the contrast between the mind's tendency to be shaped by phenomena other than reasons: desires, fears, social rewards and punishments, etc. Robert Ennis (1985) defines critical thinking as “rational reflective thinking concerned with what to do or believe.\" This definition usefully calls attention to the wide role that critical thinking plays in everyday life, for since all behavior depends on what we believe, all human action depends upon what we in some sense decide to do. Matthew Lipman (1988) defines critical thinking as “skillful, responsible, thinking that is conducive to judgment because it relies on criteria, is self-correcting and is sensitive to context.\" This definition highlights the need for intellectual standards and self-assessment."},{"insert":"\n \nScriven and Paul (Paul, 1995) define critical thinking (for the National"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking) as follows: “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.\" . . . “critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills (‘as an exercise’) without acceptance of their results.\""},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nThe point is that there is no one way to define what critical thinking is,"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" nor one way to explain it. Nevertheless, there is lurking behind the diverse definitions common understandings. For example, consider the basic explanations of critical thinking expressed in interviews of a number of scholars in the field of critical thinking research conducted by John Esterle and Dan Cluman of The Whitman Institute of San Francisco (1993). One of the questions asked all interviewees was, “What is your conception of critical thinking?\" A review of these answers demonstrates, as above, that despite diversity of expression there is a core of common meaning in the field."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"CAROLE WADE"},{"insert":": “ln our introductory psychology book, Carol Tavris and I"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" have a definition we thought quite a bit about. We define critical thinking as “the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons.\" We wanted to get in the willingness as well as the ability because a person can master critical thinking skills without being the least bit disposed to use them. Also, we didn't want critical thinking to be confined to problem solving. Unless you construe problem solving extremely broadly, critical thinking goes beyond that, to include forming judgments, evaluating claims, defending a position. We said “well-supported reasons\" rather than “evidence\" because, although our own discipline emphasizes empirical evidence, we wanted to recognize that you don't reach all conclusions or assess all claims on the basis of such evidence. Sometimes there is no empirical evidence and critical thinking is purely a process of reasoned judgment.”"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","bold":true},"insert":"MICHAEL SCRIVEN"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":": \"... it's the skill to identify the less obvious alternatives to positions, claims, arguments, generalizations, and definitions and to evaluate the alternatives with reasonable objectivity. Both are equally important. You may be commenting on what's there, but often that's only the tip of the iceberg. If you haven't seen the hidden presuppositions or the built-in point of view, then you're not thinking critically, however smart you are in analyzing the stuff that's actually presented. And the other way around: You may be good at seeing the presuppositions, the prejudices and so on, but very poor at actually analyzing them. So both those skills are key.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"STUART M. KEELEY (interviewed together with BROWNE)"},{"insert":": “Rather than"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" using a formal 1 definition, we emphasize primarily the questions critical thinkers think should be questions and want to be questions. In other words, here is a set of questions that constitutes a rubric of what it means to be a"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":"critical thinker.”"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"M. NEIL BROWNE (interviewed together with KEELEY)"},{"insert":": \"And it's a set of"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" questions, not the set of questions. I would add that a sine qua non of critical thinking is a focus on assessment, or evaluation, of the link between a claim and the basis for the claim. If there's not some orientation designed to move"},{"insert":" toward improved judgment – not right judgment but improved judgment – then I would be reluctant to label such a thing critical thinking. Our questions"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" were not generated out of any theoretical framework but from our teaching practice. We were led to questioning as a format to express our standards because, unlike declarative stipulations of standards, there's greater openness to questioning, there's greater curiosity implied by questioning, and there's a requirement of action on the part of the person receiving the question. "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"We're personally not as interested in a process that improves reflection as we"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" are in a process that improves living, that improves practice, and that thus improves judgment. I don't think I'd want to put a lot of energy into something that just enables me to reflect more profoundly. Not that there's not merit in that, but I prefer something that people can use to address problems in their lives.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","bold":true},"insert":"RICHARD PAUL"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":": \"I think the best way to get to the nub of it is to see that everyone thinks and that their thinking is deeply involved in every dimension of their daily life. If there's one thing that you can't escape, it's your own thinking. It's everywhere you are and it's always shaping and influencing everything you do – your emotions and all your decisions. Every nook and cranny that's in you is thoughtful, i.e. full of thought. The key question is: Are you in charge of your thinking; or is your thinking in charge of you? You discover critical thinking when you realize how deeply the quality of your life is dependent on the quality of your thinking, and that it's possible to take charge of your thinking – to make it what you want it to be rather than what it has been made to be by your environment, your parents, your society, the media and so on. That's the basic idea behind critical thinking. It's intrinsically"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" connected with a self-determining way of living. It's a commitment to continually upgrade the quality of your thinking so as to upgrade the quality of your life.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"CAROL TAVRIS"},{"insert":": \"We developed what we called eight guidelines to critical"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" thinking. We don't care about the number – there could be fourteen, there could be six. Several people have said, \"You know, really you've got four and a half here and several of them should be combined.\" I don't care! They work. They're handy. And they identify different steps in critical thinking, different dispositions, and different skills: How to ask questions. Why are things this way? The fact that everybody says it's so doesn't mean it's so. You need to examine evidence, look for other interpretations of phenomena, and tolerate uncertainty; some things we're never going to know. By the second edition of our book, we realized that many people were confusing 'critical thinking' with exclusively negative thinking – debunking, tearing down. So we now speak of 'critical and creative thinking,' to show that the other face of critical thinking"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" is the ability and willingness to envision new possibilities and solutions."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" . . . Since this book came out we've developed our ideas in a handbook called Critical and Creative Thinking: The Case of Love and War, which introduces these guidelines and shows how they might be applied to subjects that many people think irrationally about – love, attraction, and intimacy, and prejudice, hostility, and war."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Carole Wade and I have become interested in the psychological impediments"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" to clear thinking, and the way in which the mind is designed to serve itself, to protect self-esteem, to protect its own way of seeing the world, to keep things orderly so that everything fits into the existing framework.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","bold":true},"insert":"JOHN CHAFFEE"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":": \"To understand the nature of critical thinking, we first have to define the concept of thinking. From my perspective, thinking is a very practical, holistic integrated mental activity we engage in to make sense of the world. We use thinking in many different contexts: to solve problems, move towards goals, analyze complex issues, communicate with other people, and make informed decisions. So the thinking process is a global, purpose-seeking, meaning-seeking activity that is the essence of being human. Critical thinking builds on this fundamental process. The heart of thinking critically is developing a reflective orientation toward our minds. It involves exploring our thinking and the thinking of other people so that we can understand how our minds work, how we conceptualize the world and construct knowledge. Becoming a critical thinker goes beyond developing intellectual abilities. It also involves developing basic attitudes and dispositions."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":"In a way, it's a whole philosophy of life, a process of personal transformation. A critical thinker views the world in a qualitatively different way from someone who is not a critical thinker. In this sense, there are intrinsic qualities that characterize a critical thinker: thinking actively, carefully exploring issues with penetrating questions, developing independent viewpoints based on analysis and reasoning, exploring issues from different perspectives, engaging in dialogue with other people, and exchanging views with them. Thinking critically is a community activity as well as a reflective process, by listening to and sharing ideas with others, our own thinking is expanded, clarified, and enriched."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The other distinction that's important is that while people think all the time,"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" that doesn't mean they are thinking critically. A critical thinker is not only capable"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","italic":true},"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":"of reflecting, exploring, and analyzing but chooses to think in these advanced, sophisticated ways. For example, seeing something from a variety of perspectives involves the intellectual capability to empathize or identify with somebody else, but it also involves the desire to do it. Becoming a critical thinker is a melding of our intellect, with our emotions, attitudes, and dispositions.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","bold":true},"insert":"MARLYS MAYFIELD"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":": \"Ideally, I would say a critical thinker shows awakeness and alertness, particularly to incongruities, and a willingness to challenge incongruities. And all this takes courage and initiative. A critical thinker also appreciates clarity and precision, really relishes these qualities, and values the truth – whatever that might be – over being right. By my definition, those are the traits necessary to be a critical thinker.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":"Each of these definitions, I argue, as many others in the field, cut in fundamentally the same direction. All deal with the problem of up-grading the quality of human thinking by the cultivation of special skills, abilities, and insights that, in turn, enable the thinker to take mindful command of his or her thinking. What is most obvious from a serious examination of these multiple characterizations of critical thinking is how much they share a common set of concerns and objectives – quite in line with the history of the concept, as we shall shortly see."},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":"The most basic theme underlying traditional approaches to critical thinking is, in my view, something like this: Though it is certainly of the nature of the human mind to think – spontaneously, continuously, and pervasively – it is not of the nature of the human mind to think critically about the standards and principles guiding its spontaneous thought. The human mind has no built-in drive to question its innate tendency to believe what it wants to believe, what makes it comfortable, what is simple rather than complex, and what is commonly believed and socially rewarded. The human mind is ordinarily at peace with itself as it internalizes and creates biases, prejudices, falsehoods, half-truths, and distortions. The human mind – in a natural state of uncriticalness – spontaneously experiences itself as in tune with \"reality,\" as directly observing and faithfully recording it. It takes a special intervening process to produce the kind of self-criticalness that enables the mind to effectively and constructively question its own creations."},{"insert":"\n\nLearning to think critically is therefore an extraordinary process that"},{"attributes":{"color":"black"},"insert":" cultivates capacities merely potential in human thought and develops them at the expense of \"irrational\" or \"non-rational\" tendencies spontaneously activated from within human nature and reinforced by \"normal\" socialization. It is not \"normal,\" or even common, for a mind to discipline itself intellectually and direct itself toward intellectually defensible rather than egocentric, and sociocentric beliefs, practices, and values. This problem is, I claim, amply reflected in the history of critical thought. Let us now look at one brief reconstruction of that history."},{"insert":"\n"}]}

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