Critical thinking students
Many teachers say they strive to teach critical thinking students students to be critical thinkers.
But there is a problem with this widespread belief. The truth is that you can’t teach people to be critical unless you are critical yourself. As a teacher, you have to have a critical spirit. This does not mean moaning endlessly about education policies you dislike or telling students what they should think. It means first and foremost that you are capable of engaging in deep conversation. The need for teachers to engage in this kind of deep conversation has been forgotten, because they think that being critical is a skill. If being critical consisted simply in the application of a skill then it could in principle be taught by teachers who never engaged in it except as a critical thinking students or defensive device, somewhat as a crack rifle shot who happened to be a pacifist might nevertheless be able to teach rifle-shooting to soldiers.
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But in fact being critical can be taught only by men who can themselves freely partake in critical discussion. I gave a talk about critical thinking to a large group of first-year students. One student said that the lecturers she most disliked were the ones who banged on about the importance of being critical. She longed for one of them to assert or say something, so she could learn from them and perhaps challenge what they say. The idea that critical thinking is a skill is the first of three popular, but false views that all do disservice to the idea of being critical. At best this view reduces criticism to second-rate or elementary instruction in informal and some formal logic.
It is usually second-rate logic and poor philosophy offered in bite-sized nuggets. Seen as a skill, critical thinking can also mean subjection to the conformism of an ideological yoke. Critical theory, critical race theory, critical race philosophy, critical realism, critical reflective practice all explicitly have political aims. Criticism, according to Victorian cultural critic Matthew Arnold, is a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. Criticism is always about the world and not about you.
The philosopher most associated with the critical spirit is Socrates. Becoming a truly critical thinker is more difficult today because so many people want to be a Socrates. But Socrates only sought knowledge and to be a Socrates today means putting knowledge first. Your donation helps deliver fact-based journalism.
Annual Edith Mary Gayton Lecture: Jeremy Moody, Secretary and Adviser to the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. Stay informed and subscribe to our free daily newsletter and get the latest analysis and commentary directly in your inbox. Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment. The earliest documentation of critical thinking are the teachings of Socrates recorded by Plato.
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