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Monday, April 30, 2012


Dr X,

Please read my (contrite) post at James Hanley's blog.

I haven't read Willingham's paper (I'll have to find some time do do so), but I hope to God he's wrong. If he's right, is there any real purpose to using introductory classes in a general liberal arts education format?

And it's not so much that I want students to do a great job at analysis by the end of the one term they have with me--I just want them to make efforts at it, to demonstrate they understand some of the rudiments of it.

I'll definitely have to read Halperin's paper. My initial position is to suspect she's more right than Willingham. If so, I really ought to pay attention to what she says about technique. But, yes, I'm pretty sure there are those who will never have the inclination. I just don't like those type of people, in or out of class.

Overall, I think the important thing is to be the type of person who asks, "how does it work?"--whatever "it" is. I have a hard time not seeing that being transferable. Because while I may not go as deep with trying to learn the answer in some fields (chemistry) as others (canoe hull design), I still find that I ask the same general question, regardless of substantive topic.

I guess I do not "get" the distinction between thinking and 'critical' thinking. Seems like a new psychology-based term, invented by some psychology-based group or agenda. Now, I can think. Most of us can. And, I believe I can think critically. It saved my life, last year, when someone (whose eyes I could not see, and who did not signal their turn), turned left in front of me as I drove south on a street in my neighborhood. The old BMW, and my where-with-all, got me through that encounter. The BMW had to go, though. Now, I drive a Subaru. Good car. But not an ultimate driving machine. Clearly.

The word 'thinking' refers to any thoughts that pass through one's mind. Examples include memories, images., ideas and stories. The term 'critical thinking' distinguishes a particular kind of thinking that emphasizes deliberate questioning of facts and questioning the logical coherence of one's own ideas. You might say it's a kind of thinking about thinking.

In our everyday reactions and decisions, we depend upon thought processes and mental heuristics that don't involve critical thinking. A great deal of essential thinking I do in my work requires that I put aside critical thinking for periods of time. At other times, critical thinking is essential for evaluating my thoughts. It's not that one type of thinking is superior to the other in some general way, rather it depends upon the mental task at hand.

People who can't develop advanced critical thinking abilities are incapable of successful advanced study in intellectual fields, so cultivating critical thinking is a great concern to many college instructors who encounter students who seem unable to learn or even recognize that the particular kind of thinking they're being asked to use in their academic work is quite different from their casual observations, thoughts and opinions.

By the way, critical thinking isn't a recent invention by psychologists.


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