Saturday, November 26, 2016

More on Critical Thinking

Owen at Northern Reflections wrote about Crawford Kilian's recent article in the Tyee about the need for critical thinking in schools, which referenced Jeet Heer's twitter essay on Sartre where I found this nugget from Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew:  (And somehow I wonder why my house is such a mess.)


This one passage isn't reserved solely for anti-semites but for anyone who doesn't want to do the work of arguing their side with facts and data and strong supporting points. I commented recently on the number of people I know, educated people, who aren't into all that logic and argumentation stuff. They want to throw out an opinion without it being contested, and then they stumble, perturbed, if they're questioned. There seems to be a belief forming, a new myth we live by, that intelligent people don't have to back up their ideas. If I question someone who just tosses out a claim without supports, they're most often angered by my lack of faith in their every word. But we need to think critically of the opinions of our friends and enemies and ourselves alike. That's what critical thinking is all about.

Kilian added a few more quotes from Sartre and Adorno that are frightening in their accuracy, and then closes with these words:
"Donald Trump may delight the ignorant and bigoted with his clowning, but his rise is the signal for Canadian and American teachers to teach reason as if their kids’ lives depended on it. Because they do."
Kilian's quite confident that at least critical thinking is taught to every student in BC because it's in the curriculum. I was excited to see what wonderful things they do, but was disappointed by the typical rhetoric, wrapped in eduspeak, inside fancy graphic organizers.
"Students use criteria (explicit or implicit) to draw conclusions.... Some opportunities for analysis and critique are formal tasks; others are informal.... Students learn to engage in an inquiry and investigation where they identify and explore questions or challenges related to key issues or problematic situations..... Student apply critical thinking to create or transform products.... The Critical Thinking Competency Profiles emphasize the concept of expanding and growing."
To self evaluate, student check boxes labelled, "I can explore," and "I can ask questions and consider opinions." It's all well and good and relatively harmless in itself, but it says virtually nothing useful to anybody trying to enlighten people towards a better analysis of media sources.

I'm going to let my worlds collide here and link to my classroom website. We just need people to learn pretty simple steps to check the veracity of a source, summarized in brief like this:
Try to find the primary source of the information. If that's not possible, make sure the source is peer reviewed or fact checked, and check for any connections that might be a conflict of interest for the publication or author. 
It's not brain surgery, but it is more work than basing your judgment of a situation on a stranger's description of a headline of an article from god knows where.

And then once you know it's an accurate source, it just take the right attitude to think critically and form a reasoned opinion, massively condensed to this:
Don't focus on trivial errors, but on the main point of the claim. Don't let big words fool you into complacently deciding they must be right, either. Then scrutinize the evidence for accurate and inaccurate data and well-reasoned and fallacious arguments. Look for points of consensus and contention with the same effort. Make sure you accurately understand the argument before agreeing or disagreeing. Then make sure to use accurate facts and well-reasoned arguments to back up your own claims in supporting or opposing their ideas. Whether you compliment or criticize an idea, you have to be able to say why
It takes significantly more time and energy in the short term to sculpt a finely-tuned opinion rather than just vomiting one out off the cuff. But in the long run, it's the only thing that can save us.



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