Blog Post: Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 5 of 8 - “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice; 1970-1996 - Formal & Informal Logic Courses”)

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Apr 06, 2021 • 9d ago
Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 5 of 8 - “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice; 1970-1996 - Formal & Informal Logic Courses”)

{"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 fifth of these sections appears below.\n\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"First Wave Research Concerns:"},{"insert":"\n\nThe design of individual courses in critical thinking or informal logic"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The critique of formal logic as a tool for the analysis and assessment of \"real world\" reasoning and argumentation"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The development of theories of fallacies in thought"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The development of theories of informal logic, reasoning, persuasion, rhetoric, and argumentation, etc."},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The exploration of philosophical issues raised by theories developed to account for informal logic, reasoning, and argumentation"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nIn the first wave of critical thinking practice, the dominant paradigm came from philosophy and logic and the dominant educational manifestation was a formal or informal logic course. The idea was to establish a basic course in critical thinking which would provide entering freshmen with the foundational intellectual skills they need to be successful in college work. Almost from the beginning, however, there was a contradiction between the concerns and ideals that gave rise to the theory and practice and actual classroom practice. The ideals were broad and ambitious. The practice was narrow and of limited success.\n \nFor example, the State College and University System of California defined the goals of the critical thinking graduation requirement as follows:\n\nInstruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead 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. The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nOn the one hand, we have a global comprehensive goal and on the other hand a fairly narrow and specialized way to meet that goal. Students do not, in my experience, achieve \"an understanding of the relationship of language to logic\" leading to \"the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas\"; they do not develop \"the ability to distinguish fact from judgment\" or \"belief from knowledge\" simply because they have been drilled in \"elementary inductive and deductive processes\" nor because they have been exposed to the theory of formal and informal fallacies. The misfit between goal and means is obvious to anyone who takes the goals in the above paragraph seriously. One three-unit course in critical thinking can at best open the door to the beginning of critical thinking, provide an opening framework. It cannot result in the students having deep notions like \"an understanding of the relationship of language to logic\" or sweeping abilities like \"the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas.\"\n \nNo one or two isolated courses can change the basic habits of thought of anyone. Furthermore, as a practical matter, many of the courses established to accomplish the objective fell far short of the best design. Often, for example, a course in formal logic was allowed to qualify as a course in critical thinking even though such courses generally are confined to teaching only the mechanical manipulation of symbols in accord with rules for such manipulation, a practice that does not result in changing habits of thought. Under questioning students who have taken such courses demonstrate little insight into why they were doing what they were doing and no sense of how to transfer their \"manipulative\" abilities (with the symbols of formal logic) into practical tools in everyday thought.\n \nSubstituting informal logic courses for formal ones was one of the earliest shifts in emphasis as more and more instructors recognized that the formal logic approach had little transfer effect. The emphasis in the informal logic approach to the improvement of thinking was a giant step in the right direction. In place of highly abstract and contrived \"arguments\" in symbolic form, the students had to read and analyze arguments that came from editorials and everyday speech and debate.\n \nUnfortunately, the informal logic textbooks were often rich in vocabulary and sophisticated distinctions but, unfortunately, poor in fostering deep internalization. The distinctions were generally well-thought out, but there were far too many distinctions for a one semester course, and furthermore, they were too typically narrow in their scope. Consequently, most students were rushed on to new distinctions and concepts before they had internalized the “old\" ones. There was little emphasis on the construction – as against the critique – of reasoning. There was little done with the essential dispositions and values underlying critical thinking. The goals remained broad and profound, the means narrow and unrealistic.\n \nFurthermore, the problem of transfer remained; it was still not clear to students how to transfer their analyses of bits and pieces of argumentation into learning what they were being taught in other courses, namely, sociology, psychology, biology, etc. And so most students, once their critical thinking courses were finished, reverted to their established lower-order, survival skills – principally, rote memorization and cramming – to get by.\n \nThe problem of most first wave work is both theoretical and pedagogical. Theoretically, little if anything was done to work out a comprehensive theory of “logic\" sufficient to make sense of the logic of Biology, the logic of Sociology, the logic of Anthropology, Geography, Literature, the Arts, etc. The concept of logic implicit in informal logic research is too narrow to provide the basis for transfer of critical thinking from, in fact, informal logic courses (no matter how well designed) to the broader curriculum, nor into the complex problems of everyday life and thought (except in a narrow range of such problems).\n \nPedagogically, little was done to work out the practical problems of restructuring instruction' and learning overall. After all, how is one to teach anyone anything in such a way as to foster their taking command of their thinking, so that they develop not only intellectual skills but the basic dispositions and values that underlie critical thinking? How are academic subjects to be taught such that students leave school with the intellectual skills necessary to adapt to incessant and accelerating change and complexity? How are we to teach so that students explicitly recognize that the work of the future is the work of the mind, intellectual work that demands global skills of reasoning and intellectual self-discipline? These questions must be addressed.\n"}]}

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