Category Archives: critical thinking

Can critical thinking be taught?

Having fun reading the brain-teasing posts of Artichoke,
especially this one with a ton of interesting links. This one (RTF file) in particular is relevant to autonomy, altho the title is “critical thinking”. In fact, it is one of the first articles I can remember reading which links autonomy and critical thinking; an obvious connection, but I hadn’t thought about it deeply before.

The article essentially asks, Is it possible to teach critical thinking skills? Basing himself on Lamm’s “Cognitive Map of Instuction”, the author Harpaz posits there are essentially 3 theories (or “logics”)  of instruction, and that these logics conflict “in the realm of their practical results. The patterns of instruction neutralize one another in terms of their educational effect.”

The three logics of instruction are “a necessary product of the three components of the human condition: society, culture, and the individual.” The three patterns are therefore imitation derived from the “super-goal” of socialization; molding derived from the “super-goal” of acculturation, and development derived from the “super-goal” of individuation.

Harpaz then examines the teaching of critical thinking in the 3 patterns. Do the patterns of imitation suit the goals of teaching critical thinking skills? He basically says, No: there are too many contradictions. He therefore suggests a fourth pattern of instruction for which he borrows a term from Lamm, “the undermining didactic.”

Here are some bits I underlined:

A more crucial contradiction appearing in instruction for critical thinking in the pattern of imitation is a result of the “hidden curriculum” of this pattern – the covert messages sent by the practice of teaching, of which the teachers and students are unaware….Anyone learning critical thinking through imitation has also learned, in addition to the skills of critical thinking, that his or her opinions and motivations are of no importance; that to know is to remember; to think is dangerous, since thinking can disrupt the precise replication of the teacher’s words; authorities must be obeyed, because they know; knowledge is objective, cumulative and unequivocal; problems are well-defined; every problem has a clear-cut solution; one’s worth is dependent on others’ opinions of him/her; learning involves futile suffering….[my emphasis, my favourite!]  In short [someone] proficient in the skills of critical thinking…but [not] a critical thinker…

The pattern of imitation is driven by the principle of “visible results”, meaning that behaviors acquired in the pattern of imitation are public behaviors. They may therefore be easily modeled, exercised and evaluated. They also suit the school framework (which is not coincidental, for schools were originally created for the purpose of socialization, and are therefore governed by the pattern of imitation)….

Any content, including philosophy, can be taught through the use of the three patterns of instruction. Though it is perhaps more pertinent to teach philosophy in the “commuity of inquiry”, it is not obligatory to do so. Philosophy can be taught in a lecture designed to cover the “material” in order to succeed at an exam, which determines the extent of memorization of the “material” – in other words, the pattern of imitation. (In most places where philosophy has been taught, this has been the method.) The pattern of imitation is dominant in the average school, and other patterns of instruction introduced in schools tend to disappear under its shadow.

…in the average school… open and critical discussion will come to an end when the teacher, principal or supervisor thinks that he is not “keeping up pace” or “covering” the chapters of the “traditions of the great cultures” indluded in the curriculum. In other words, in the contexty of school learning , instruction to critical thinking tends to be ritualized…

It is questionable whether dispositions of critical thinking can and should be molded by the pattern of molding. By its very nature, the pattern of molding cannot develop a critical attitude to the beliefs it is attempting to instil, thereby contradicting the idea of critical thinking. The essence of this idea is that no belief is protected from critical thinking, including the belief in critical thinking itself. Ultimately, it is quite possible that unexamined lives are worth living.

Conceptions that reduce the term “critical thinking” to autonomous or authentic personality, and claim that it is possible to develop such a personality through the use of “negative education” – meaning education that avoids forcing any “extrinsic aims” upon the students (including critical thinking) – are a version of the pattern of development… No approach to critical thinking is suited to the pattern of development. This is surprising, considering the fact that critical thinking is an essential and declared goal of this pattern….Non-critical “true believers” [does this have the same overtones as the phrase used by John Gatto, I wonder?] are bound to the belief (or “meta-belief”) that their beliefs are derived from some foundation in the world, that they are forced upon them. Experiencing choice through freedom undermines a person’s propensity to attribute a deeper essence to the world than to  himself, in other words to be non-critical.

Charles Silberman noted in his once popular book Crisis in the Classroom
that the decisive mistake of teachers is that they think students learn what they teach [Silberman, 1971, p.181]. The analysis proposed here adds another decisive error: that teachers think they are teaching what they teach. Teachers teach content; but the students learn primarily from the pattern of instruction the teachers use and from the messages inherent within it.)

A hierarchy seems to exist in the three primary categories, “skills”, “dispositions” (or internalized values and principles) and “personality,” which comprise the “ideal types” of education to critical thinking. The “personality” category is broader than that of “dispositions,” for (autonomous or authentic) personality is likely to supervise or criticize its own dispositions; while “dispositions” precede skills, which they guide and actualize. Since we [“we”? Only one author is in the byline!]  claim  that education to critical thinking must adopt only one pattern of instruction, it is fitting that it employe the pattern centered upon the most basic category. This is the pattern of development, whose goal is to develop autonomous personality, recognizable by its critical relationship to its beliefs.

[What is needed] is a process necessitating a pattern of instruction not easily plotted on Lamm’s “Cognitive Map of Instruction”. However, it suits a pattern of instruction described by Lamm elsewhere: the pattern of the “undermining didactic” (Lamm, 1972).

…pedagogical tact is always needed, especially in this undermining pattern of instruction. This educational process aims to develop the personality’s flexibility, openness and autonomy. It does not educate directly to critical thinking, because it is impossible to do so.

…The seed of the “fourth pattern” exists in all of the approaches discussed above. Its roots lie in the Socratic dialogue, as well as in Dewey’s and Piaget’s concepts of thinking and learning.

A Google search on  “Cognitive map of instruction” brought up this article which I will peruse later.

Am back to Blogjet, as once again Firefox’s Performancing extension is letting me down. Is it a problem?