I attended a conference last weekend and was particularly interested in the breakout session on critical thinking by Dr. Matthew Etherington, who recounted his experience at a recent education conference where he attended a panel discussion on critical thinking. One of the pronouncements made by one of the panelists (a longtime teacher educator) was that critical thinking is about demolishing old ideas.
Well, one way to evaluate an idea is to apply it to itself. Here is a conversation that might occur if we are to teach our students to demolish old ideas and call that critical thinking.
Person 1: The earth is spherical. I know this because I saw it in a picture.
Person 2: No, the earth is square. I know this because my idea is newer than yours.
According to the panelist, Person 2 should be rewarded for demonstrating critical thinking skills.
Fortunately, we know that the test for the correctness of an idea is not its age.
But a deeper problem became evident when Dr. Etherington challenged the panelists to explain how their view that critical thinking is about demolishing old ideas is in any way inclusive of those who believe that some old ideas are worth keeping. He offered several groups of people whose ideas would be explicitly excluded and actively targeted by this view of critical thinking, including aboriginal people and anyone who might subscribe to any sort of religious tradition.
The panelist’s response?
Hmm…I’ve never thought about that.
Well, then. Apparently these critical thinking experts need some remedial instruction on how to apply the actual skills of critical thinkers to their own views.
I intend to dig into what critical thinking actually is over my next few posts.