Blog Post: Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 4 of 8 - “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”)

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Mar 25, 2021 • 3y ago
Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 4 of 8 - “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”)

{"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 fourth of these sections appears below.\n \n \nThough it is possible to trace a common core of meaning reflected in a rich history of the concept of critical thinking, it does not follow that most of those working in the field are now aware of that history or work with a keen sense of the core meaning of the term (as reflected in that history). In fact, recent history of work in the field suggests that there is a significant level of theoretical “confusion\" resulting from the fact that so many scholars working on the concept function independently of each other in multiple disciplines without any unifying agenda or common awareness of the history of the concept. \n \nPart of the reason for this is that critical thinking studies is not a distinctive recognized academic field and hence lacks the discipline-based continuity of such a tradition. The result of recent research in the last 36 years is therefore diffuse rather than centered. Many working on the concept are working on it in a partial way, often heavily influenced in their analysis by their own academic discipline or background. \n \nIt goes without saying that insights into how the human mind can “malfunction\" intellectually can come from many different sources or fields. Documentation of the problem of cultural bias, for example, is more likely to come from the research of cultural anthropologists than from parasitologists or neurologists. Documentation of the problem of self-deception in human thought is more likely to come from depth psychologists than from, say, physicists. A problem results, of course, when an insight into one problem of human thought is treated as if it were the sole problem for critical thinking to solve. The field of critical thinking studies suffers from the natural tendency of those in all disciplines to treat critical thinking in terms of the insights of their home discipline, failing thereby to do justice to its interdisciplinary meaning and power. This is reflected in the last 30 years or so of research. Let's review those years since the early 70's, in which there are three discernable waves of research into critical thinking.\n\nThe three waves represent, in essence, different research agendas and point to different emphases in application. Each wave has its committed adherents, and each therefore represents an important choice influencing future work in the field. The third wave, as I conceptualize it, represents a very recent movement in the field, and, if it takes root, will perform a synthesizing function, integrating the most basic insights of the first two waves and transforming the field into one which is much more historical and conceptually broad than it is at present. But I am getting ahead of myself. I shall summarize these three waves in outline, and then deal with them in more detail.\n \nThe first wave of the last 30 years of critical thinking studies is based on a focus on the theory of logic, argumentation, and reasoning. It has become a virtual field unto itself, dominated by philosophers. First wave theorists tend to be “informal logicians\" and tend to focus only on those instances of thinking in which persuasion and argumentation are explicit. In addition, they tend to analyze “arguments\" with a minimum of background context. They tend to view reasoning and logic in what seems to me to be a relatively narrow and technical fashion, ignoring the broad family of related uses of the word 'logic' (which one might review in any dictionary of the English Language).\n \nThe broad notion of critical thinking as, say, articulated by Sumner above ["},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"see part 3 of this article, titled, "},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"link":""},"insert":"“A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”"},{"insert":"], is not adequately dealt with by this philosophically-based tradition. The tools provided do not make for a broad use of critical thinking in everyday life. For example, the role of thought in the shaping of feelings, emotions, and values; the role of subconscious thought; the role of thought in shaping concepts, presuppositions, questions, and points of view – all these are often thrust into the background, or ignored entirely, in the conceptions of critical thinking articulated in work developed by informal logicians.\n \nThe result is that “first wave\" theoreticians do not focus on command of “the logic of language\" or “the logic of questions\" as key components of critical thinking. What is more, if one views the compass of critical thinking as dealing with those “logical structures\" that underlie all human thought, emotion, and behavior, the framework and writings of most informal logic theorists appears narrow, specialized, and of limited usefulness. For example, Piaget's research – with his broad and rich sense of “logic\" – has had no discernable influence on the work of informal logicians. Even Ryle's classic essay on “Formal and Informal Logic\" has had little influence – since Ryle treats informal logic in that essay in a very broad and encompassing way.\n \n\nThe second wave, as I see it, represents, to some extent, a reaction against the first. Unlike the first wave, it is not grounded in any one discipline. It represents a loose conglomeration of interested persons, producing work of mixed quality, developed from many different standpoints. This diversity of standpoints gives to second wave research a scattered character. It includes: some working on critical thinking from the standpoint of cognitive psychology, some from the standpoint of “critical pedagogy,\" some from the standpoint of feminism, some from the standpoint of particular disciplines (such as critical thinking in biology, business, or nursing), and yet others from the standpoint of some element purportedly missing from first wave research agendas (such as “emotion,\" “intuition,\" “imagination,\" “creativity,\" etc.)\n \nTaken collectively, therefore, second wave projects are more comprehensive than first wave projects, since second wave analysis looks at critical thinking typically outside the tradition of logic and rhetoric. Unfortunately, second wave work (lacking a shared intellectual tradition) is collectively far less integrated, less coherent, and sometimes more “superficial.\" While exceptional work has been done during the second wave, the gain is too often breadth at the expense of depth and rigor.\n \n \nThe third wave, as I envision it, presupposes some recognition of the problems generated by the first two waves and represents a commitment to transcend those problems (rigor without comprehensiveness, on the one hand, and comprehensiveness without rigor, on the other). Third wave theorists are still relatively rare, though the work of a variety of intellectuals and scholars is relevant to third wave research agendas.\n \nThe principles and standards of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (NCECT), and the Sonoma conference tradition, illustrate significant attempts to answer the need created by the limitations of the first two waves of critical thinking theory. For example, the NCECT research projects based on comprehensive principles and standards explicitly go beyond a “narrow\" view of logic and critical thinking. The Sonoma conference tradition, in turn, has explicitly been premised on fostering a comprehensive core concept of critical thinking that goes beyond any one discipline or definition (over 30 academic disciplines have been represented by papers and presentations at the conference) and each conference of the 16 has represented a more and more discipline-based balance of presentations.\n \nStill, the field is at a crucial juncture, for if comprehensiveness and rigor are not combined in the work of the field, it is likely to split even further into a narrow technical field on the one hand, and a hodge-podge on the other. However, it is too early to tell whether and to what extent the need for both comprehensiveness and rigor will be answered by the full development of third wave research agendas.\n \nUnfortunately, third wave agendas cannot go forward without a general recognition of the importance of a deep and comprehensive theory that goes beyond the “narrowness\" of most first wave research and the ”superficiality\" of much second wave research. It requires a willingness to think outside one’s"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":" "},{"insert":"discipline or at least to think within one's discipline from the standpoint of a broader range of concerns. It requires, on the one hand, informal logicians willing not only to examine the problems posed by second wave theorists, but also to move to a broader conception of logic, one that recognizes that there is a logic to thinking within different disciplines, a logic to human emotions, a logic to human behavior, a logic, indeed, to every dimension of human life in which thinking is the driving force. On the other hand, it calls for those with second wave concerns to take seriously the insights of first wave research and not simply to grudgingly (and abstractly) admit some value to it.\n \nIn other words, while first wave researchers need to recognize the importance of broadening the sweep of their concerns, second wave researchers need to recognize the need to build on the theoretical rigor of the first wave, to internalize, not ignore, the insights of the first wave, and to build on them. Only out of a real marriage of first and second wave concerns, only by a deep integration of insights, can the third wave fully develop. Those who would contribute significantly to the field of critical thinking research need to internalize the strengths of the first two waves. Now, with this rough background in mind, let us look at the three waves in a more formal way.\n"}]}

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