Friday, December 19, 2008

'Critical Thinking' is making us stupid II

Perhaps R.R. Reno and Patrick Deneen have been reading each other.

In his November entry Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking Deneen echoes Reno's concerns about that educational buzzword and its admirers.

Likewise lamenting critical thinking's self-exemption from critique, he delivers a reflection on the "Canon Wars" of the 1980s:
...those debates have been decidedly won by the party that was ultimately devoted not to an alternative curriculum, but to its absence. What was sought was not the abandonment of certain books in favor of certain other books, but the abandonment of the idea that there were normative standards or moral lessons that could be drawn from books at all. What was sought was the defeat of the idea of education that involved moral formation based upon an inherited tradition discoverable by inquiry and reflection encouraged by the reading of great books, and instead its replacement by an ideal of a free-floating liberated “subject” who was capable of “thinking critically” about any and all subjects except the basic presuppositions of what constituted “critical thinking” and associated substantive commitments.

As I see it, both Deneen and Reno suggest critical thinking is the preferred educational method of a simplifying globalist or careerist ideology:
“Critical thinking” is a form of intentional deracination and displacement. Its basic assumption is that students enter college or university with a set of under-explored moral commitments that they have inherited from the broader culture...

The implicit opposite of “critical thinking” is faith, understood as an unreflective set of commitments to pre- or anti-rational beliefs. An education in critical thinking takes on the appearance of contentless inquiry, but is in fact deeply informed by a considerable set of Enlightenment beliefs, including the effort to inculcate deracinated reason, a conception of the individual as a monadic “self,” antipathy to culture and religion, philosophical skepticism, a deep-seated materialism, and a devotion to a cosmopolitan outlook that permits one to be comfortable everywhere and nowhere in particular.


The charge to engage in limitless and even promiscuous forms of critical thinking runs up against a basic feature and aim of Catholic teaching: that there is a limit on what can be critically regarded.

Deneen, a professor of political science at Georgetown, goes on to examine the effects of "critical thinking" on Catholic higher education and its relevance to debates on academic freedom.

He also suggests how the concept can be redeemed through its self-application in, and not against, the context of a vigorous Catholic education.


For a less intellectual, more conspiracy-minded attack on critical thinking, there is Dealing with Resisters.

It is notable for its attacks on Rev. Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church:

Don’t minimize the significant parallel between the school [of critical thinking] and the purpose-driven church. The words and phrases used by the two systems may differ at times, but the manipulative management methods and change processes are the same. Both fit into the “seamless” structure of the global management system. Both would agree that it’s okay to criticize and tear down the old ways of thinking and believing. But it’s not okay to criticize the global vision for a utopian future or the march toward solidarity in a new world order.

In the selective portrayal of this site, Warren is a "change agent" who has traded Christianity for managerial techniques.

This critic has a point. What kind of preacher gives this kind of advice:
When a human body is out of balance we call that disease... Likewise, when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs... Health will occur only when everything is brought back into balance. The task of church leadership is to discover and remove growth-restricting diseases and barriers so that natural, normal growth can occur.

Church growth advocates are indeed paralleling the personal growth advocates we see in education schools and daytime talk shows, not to mention the financial advice columns.

Behind all this "critical thinking" does there lurk the malign influence of the MBA?


W.LindsayWheeler said...

If you look up "Philosophy" in the Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, it defines philosophy as "Critical thinking".

On another website, when I stated that Philosophy was the "Love of Wisdom", I was attacked and demeaned and was told that philosophy was "critical thinking". What is going on is "revolution within the form". Critical thinking is replacing the old definition. What you are witnessing is the re-definition of words. The Atheists, materialists, the socialists are all in the vanguard of this movement. Just like how the term 'republic' has been redefined.

See, true philosophy is about the transcendent One; God. That has to be done away with. Can't have that. It is about making man into a deracinated, de-religiousized human that is only an "individual" or just a "consumer". This is what is behind Libertarianism as well.

Josef said...

"Church growth advocates are indeed paralleling the personal growth advocates we see in education schools and daytime talk shows, not to mention the financial advice columns."

I couldn't agree with you more on this one. Evangelical Christians have co-opted psychobabble in order to pursue a growth model at any cost.

Regarding 'critical thinking' one of my old professors put it best when she said "Critical Thinking is a bit overdone, students think that when you say "x" it is their duty to say "not x". My experience teaching high school so far indicates that she's right. Of course the scientists would ask for something more than personal anecdote here, but I'm afraid there is no empirical way to measure critical thinking.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that critical thinking has attained the status of a charismatic term within educational circles. I know it's a stretch to apply Weaver's definition to a profession rather than society at large, but I think there is a case to be made here that there are as many definitions of critical thinking as there are users of the term.

It takes courage to stand in front of a public school classroom, institute real discipline, and actually teach something. It's much easier to build a 'classroom community' and implement a 'student based curriculum', whatever that means, and tell a 17 year old that their knowledge is just as valuable as the greatest philosophers history has known. And we wonder why kids today think adults are dumb.