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Part One An Abbreviated History of Critical Thinking: From Socrates to Freshman Composition
470 B. C Socrates, Philosopher Greece "No one can be taught, but they can learn. "
Socratic dialogue: He drew forth knowledge from his students by pursuing a series of questions and examining the implications of their answers. Thus, the concept of active learning was born.
399 B. C. Socrates is publicly executed for asking too many questions, or rather one question: “Why? ” Now, divergent thinkers are simply made fun of as being "literary types. "
1517 Martin Luther questions a major assumption underlying the values of most Europeans and sparks the Reformation of the Catholic Church in Germany. Disputes spread throughout Europe. The assumption? God is three people. The challenge? No, God is one person. Let the fighting begin.
1620 Pilgrims slam into Plymouth Rock. America is settled because a group of freethinkers challenged the assumptions of the group in power (Martin Luther started it) and were not only prosecuted, but often killed.
1729 Jonathan Swift, satirist and Dean of the Church of Ireland, publishes Gulliver's Travels. He compares the battle between Protestants and Catholics to a fight between two nations over which end of an egg is superior. Satire becomes a serious form of persuasion.
1780 The Unitarian movement insinuates itself into the liberal wing of Congregationalism with the help of William Ellery Channing, minister and writer. Useless Fact: Unitarianism actually propped up during the Reformation but few know about this since the Protestants and the Church of England got all the attention.
Unitarianism Contributes to Critical Thought Unitarianism advocates tolerance in religion -- the acceptance and respect of divergent world views. Channing was a huge influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and the philosophy of Transcendentalism.
1836 -1860 Transcendentalism is born by Emerson. Transcendentalists see individual intuition as the highest source of knowledge, emphasizing individualism, self-reliance, and rejection of traditional authority.
What Emerson said: “A man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head. ”
1817 HENRY D. IS BORN! Once he grew up, Henry Thoreau took of with Transcendentalism and made its ideas only slightly more accessible to the general public than Emerson’s, through two main writings:
On Walden He lived in a cabin by a pond to escape civilization and the authority of others, to find God through nature and also to ridicule the “civilized” world for its ridiculous rules, regulations, and values. As a result, he favored trees and animals over people. Henry never married.
Useless Henry Fact: The cabin he lived in for less than two years was on Ralph Waldo Emerson's property. Henry had lunch with Ralph's wife almost every day.
"Civil Disobedience" Thoreau wrote the essay when he was jailed for refusing to pay taxes. Civil Disobedience became a catchphrase to justify serious opposition to rules and regulations that may offend a specific individual, not necessarily a majority -- unlike the Boston Tea Party, which was a mob act.
"A Majority of One. " Thoreau's biggest contribution to Critical Thinking: His exploration of the individual's needs versus the "greater good" of society; that an individual's ideas, if divergent from the masses, are just as worthy and are to be tolerated. The majority in a Democracy may not always be right, and should be challenged.
"Dismiss Whatever Insults Your Own Soul. " -- Walt Whitman, poet Another transcendentalist, Whitman believed in the value of the individual, that each person had the ability to think and question and make rational choices without interference by “expert” authority. Whether people cultivated this ability was another matter. Thus, Critical Thinking took shape.
PART TWO DEFINITIONS OF CRITICAL THINKING
1. "Instruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences (conclusions) drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief. " -- California community colleges and high schools.
2. "Critical thinking is disciplined, self-directed thinking appropriate to the situation that is used to guide your behavior. It is thinking about your thinking. It is both reflective and analytical; of self and others -- motives, values, assumptions. " -- Critical Thinking Project -- University of El Paso Texas
3. ”. . . the art of taking charge of your own mind. . . if we can take charge of our own minds, we can take charge of our lives; we can improve them, bringing them under our self command direction. Of course, this requires that we learn self-discipline and the art of self-examination. . . it involves getting into the habit of reflectively examining our impulsive and accustomed ways of thinking and acting in every dimension of our lives. -- National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking
4. "Through [the Critical Thinking] process, a student does not listen to and accept arguments put forth in the classroom. A critical student has the inclination to examine any statement of 'fact' until ultimately rejecting it or assimilating it with his or her current belief system. . . Critical thinking only requires that the student refuse to accept arguments passively and without a supporting structure in which he or she already believes. " -- Renato G. Villacorte, Psychology Professor
Part Three Qualities of a Critical Thinker: Bases for Evaluation -- Some ideas have been lifted from the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory
1. Truthseeking A courageous desire for the best knowledge, even if such knowledge fails to support or undermines one's preconceptions, beliefs or self interests.
2. Being Analytic Demanding the application of reason and evidence; alert to problematic situations; inclined to anticipate consequences.
3. Being Systematic Valuing organization, focus and diligence to approach problems of all levels of complexity.
4. Self-Confidence/ Self-Reliance Trusting of one's own reasoning skills and seeing oneself as a good thinker. (Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson)
5. Inquisitiveness Curious and eager to acquire knowledge and learn explanations evenwhen the applications of the knowledge are not immediately apparent. or Being sincerely interested in the answer when you ask a question; not asking just to “show someone up. ”
6. Cognitive Maturity Prudence in making, suspending, or revising judgement. Anawareness that multiple solutions can be acceptable.
7. Openmindedness Tolerance of divergent views; self-monitoring for possible bias. THE WILLINGNESS TO ENTERTAIN IDEAS AND BELIEFS THAT ARE OPPOSED TO YOUR OWN.
"Measurable" Goals "The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought. " -- California community colleges and high schools.
Part Four Examining Assumptions: Critical Thinking's Application To The Real World. (Ideas lifted from the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking)
The Citizen As citizens, too often we vote impulsively and uncritically, without taking the time to familiarize ourselves with the relevant issues and positions, without thinking about the long-run implications of what is being proposed, without paying attention to how politicians manipulate us by flattery or vague and empty promises.
The Friend As friends, too often we become the victims of our own infantile needs, "getting involved" with people who bring out the worst in us or who stimulate us to act in ways that we have been trying to change.
The Spouse As husbands or wives, too often we think only of our own desires and points of view, uncritically ignoring the needs and perspectives of our mates, assuming that we want and what we think is clearly justified and true, and that when they disagree with us they are being unreasonable and unfair.
The Employee (from the Atlanta Business Journal) Critical thinking in organizations today, both large and small, is leading to a wave of inventiveness and creativity. . . Plato, Aristotle and Socrates understood what critical thinking was and is all about. Today, critical thinking is heralded by business people and academics. This is good. Be assured there is a real dearth of thinking that differentiates truth from fiction.
Part V Examining Assumptions: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE “INSTRUCTOR”?
"As teachers, too often we allow ourselves to uncritically teach as we have been taught, giving assignments that students can mindlessly do, inadvertently discouraging their initiative and independence, missing opportunities to cultivate their self-discipline and thoughtfulness. " -- National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking
"The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living" -- Socrates "It is quite possible, and. . . 'natural', to live an unexamined life, to live in a more or less automated, uncritical way. . . if we allow ourselves to become unreflective persons, or rather, to the extent that we do, we are likely to do injury to ourselves and others, and to miss many opportunities to make our own lives, and the lives of others, fuller, happier, and more productive.