Critical Thinking

I am interested in this post and post on critical thinking.

Is critical thinking a skill?  Can one teach critical thinking?

Stephen has delivered the course on Critical Literacies MOOC in the past.  He says: reasoning skills do not change from discipline to discipline. Here’s Stephen’s response.

Stephen responds in his comments:

Critical thinking cuts a wide swatch across all disciplines. Just like with mathematics, the principles of critical thinking do not change from one domain to the next.

Alex says here

The last bullet….suggests that logical argumentation and reason are not absolutes but are instead ideological products of the relations “among language, knowledge and power.” This is a familiar view to anyone with experience in critical theory, postmodernism, cultural studies, etc. This view would suggest that the evaluative processes supported by logical argumentation and reason are not critical at all, or at least are not sufficient.

He further comments:

As for commercial interests in critical thinking, obviously there’s a There are courses like this one:…. And there are many, many tests. All of this hinges on a common curriculum and concept of critical thinking.

To reiterate, I don’t have a problem with this content being taught. I disagree with its claims toward universality, but I’m fine with people teaching things I disagree with. I can tell you that what is described here and in “critical thinking” textbooks is not what people in English mean when they say critical thinking. They mean something that is connected to ideological critique and would not be universalist.

There are a few questions that I would like to explore and reflect:

1. Do principles of critical thinking change from one domain to the next?

2. Are logical argumentation and reason absolutes?  Are they ideological productions of the relations among language, knowledge and power?

3. Is critical thinking connected to ideological critique and would not be universalist?

I have shared here on logic and reasoning, and here on critical thinking.

1. Do principles of critical thinking change from one domain to the next?

First, what is critical thinking?

Robert H. Ennis, Author of The Cornell Critical Thinking Tests
“Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do.”

Assuming that critical thinking is reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do, a critical thinker:

1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives
2. Tries to be well-informed
3. Judges well the credibility of sources
4. Identifies conclusions, reasons, and assumptions
5. Judges well the quality of an argument, including the acceptability of its reasons, assumptions, and evidence
6. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position
7. Asks appropriate clarifying questions
8. Formulates plausible hypotheses; plans experiments well
9. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context
10. Draws conclusions when warranted, but with caution
11. Integrates all items in this list when deciding what to believe or do

What are the principles of critical thinking?

  1. Knowledge is acquired only through thinking, reasoning, and questioning. Knowledge is based on facts.
  2. It is only from learning how to think that you learn what to think.
  3. Critical thinking is an organized and systematic process used to judge the effectiveness of an argument.
  4. Critical thinking is a search for meaning.
  5. Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned.

Do the above principles hold true and won’t change from one domain to the next? 

We might have to examine each of the principles and verify if they are reflective of realities.

1. Is knowledge acquired ONLY through thinking, reasoning, and questioning? Is knowledge based on facts?

2. Is it true that you learn what to think only from learning how to think?

3. Is critical thinking an organized and systematic process used to judge the effectiveness of an argument?

4. is critical thinking a search for meaning?

5. Is critical thinking a skill that can be learnt?

Critical thinking refers to a higher level of thinking which is guided by knowledge and evidence.  Reason and evidence is fundamental in such thinking process.  Reasoning needs to be based on sound logic.  Such critical thinking would also need to be guided by reasoning and  evidence collected, analysed and evaluated.

Critical thinking is then a way to support intellectual independence.

Critical thinking requires:

Intellectual discipline

Clear expression of ideas

Acceptance of personal responsibility for our own thinking.

Based on the above arguments, I would agree with principles 3, 4, and 5 on critical thinking.

On principle 1, we might have to define what we mean by “facts” before we could establish that knowledge is based on facts.

On principle 2, we might have to understand and apply how to think about a subject discipline based on the context.

I think that is the crucial point between the arguments presented by Stephen and Alex.

From what I could interpret from Alex’s argument, critical thinking has been translated to mean close reading and comprehension in English reading, and it is important that for the learners to understand and interpret the relations “among language, knowledge and power”  in order to critically analyse the author’s intention in writing, and the reasoning in academic writings and discourse.

Would such way of “critical thinking” be different when viewed in the lens of different disciplines or domain – in Biology, Physics, Engineering?  I think it depends on the context.  Critical thinking may be an absolute “construct” but would be interpreted quite differently by scientists, artists and philosophers, mainly because of the differences in their way of interpreting the world.

I think if the principle 2 is agreed upon by experts of different domains, then there could be possibility of coming into some common “ways” and principles of critical thinking.

I think critical thinking is a skill that can be learnt, but then whether it can be taught is still moot.

I would continue to explore the following questions in subsequent posts:

2. Are logical argumentation and reason absolutes?  Are they ideological productions of the relations among language, knowledge and power?

3. Is critical thinking connected to ideological critique and would not be universalist?

What are the success factors in education?

What are the success factors in education in the world?

Is it based on highly qualified and trained teachers?  Is it due to well-developed education system?  Is it due to well supported learning environment?  Is it based on learning community?

First, how is student success measured in the world?

See this pisa and post on education ranking.

PISA Measuring student success in the world

Second, how do educators and administrators view their country’s education system?

In a related post what-Americans-keep-ignoring-about-Finlands-school-success, the author concludes that: “the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.”

Here is the education of Shanghai, China

How about other country like Singapore?

In Japan, integrated learning is emphasised.  It is important to develop independent thinking, creativity, and problem solving skills.  A focus on solving problems of the community is also the basis of integrated learning.

In this study on second-chances-in-education:

There is no doubt that greater proficiency at early ages is an advantage for further education and creates opportunities for additional studies that may not be as readily available to low-achievers. While taking the most common path – through secondary and then directly on to university-level education – appears to maximise improvements in reading proficiency, not everyone takes that route. The evidence in this unique study shows that learning does not end with compulsory education. Second-chance programmes and flexibility in education systems can help young people who have not had the advantages of supportive learning environments early in their lives to improve their reading proficiency later on.

This indicates the importance of continuous life long learning, and second chance program in education, which would help people to improve their reading proficiency.

What are the success factors common across those top performers?

1. An emphasis of education by the country.

2. Selection of teachers who are passionate in teaching and supportive of students’ learning.

3. Provision of professional development for teachers.

4. An emphasis of certain skill sets such as independent thinking, creativity and problem solving in the education and learning curriculum, centered around the needs and future development of the community and nation.

5. Supportive learning community – such as those in Singapore, with Professional Learning Community (PLC).

6. A focus on the use of new and emerging technology like mobiles and tools in enhancing learning.  This is widely used in the classroom teaching and learning in Singapore.