I just read an interesting article in Newsweek by Alexander Nazaryan titled, You’re 100 Percent Wrong About Critical Thinking. The premise is that students in the United States are far behind students in other countries like China and India, not because they do not develop strong skills in critical thinking but more so because they haven’t taken the time or put in the effort to learn the basic information being taught in the schools: information that is considered immutable and fundamental, such as the names of the bones in the wrist or the correct method to calculate the distance to a star or the height of a flag pole.
In most instances such as these, critical thinking is not relevant. But that isn’t to say that critical thinking is unnecessary. Just yesterday I was carefully following a recipe for a casserole and realized there was something wrong with the amount of one of the ingredients. I reviewed the recipe and correctly concluded that an error was likely with the results that the final dish I made was quite tasty and not floating in soya.
That was critical thinking: I knew my chances of good results were higher if I followed the experts’ recipe but I still had my critical brain in gear and fortuitously caught a printing error that could have been disastrous.
This is what Nazaryan writes:
In pure lexical terms, “critical thinking” is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Translated into pedagogy, it’s teaching students to be intellectual mavericks, cognitive cowboys who poke bullet holes into every received concept, who duel with Aristotle and Dickinson, who are never complacent, submissive or even quiet. They brim with what Walt Whitman called “original energy.”
Now the article goes on and on, even suggesting that since Nazaryan was once a teacher, he is an authority on the subject. However, let’s just take that one paragraph.
The dictionary definition of “critical thinking” is good but it doesn’t include the connotations the term suggests. There is the short-form definition
Critical thinking is not taking things at face value,
Or too quote a very old but still valuable bit of advice
To start with, Nazaryan’s early paragraph repeated above, is an example of just the danger involved in accepting the utterances of a so-called expert without turning on your critical thinking skills. Nazaryan’s “translation into pedagogy” is totally self-serving, designed to increase the validity of his specious argument, and just plain clap-trap. I would expect as much from the RNC but not Newsweek.
Critical thinking is not for intellectual mavericks or cognitive cowboys to poke holes in every concept. Rather it is the skill to see when what is being passed off as true is in fact mendacious: when we are being told things are in our best interest when they are not.
Nazaryan adequately demonstrates why we need to develop the critical thinking skills of our younger generations with the specious conclusion he tries to pass off as truth in the second paragraph of his article.
But read the article and come to your own conclusions … that is what Critical Thinking is all about … (and for the record, Aristotle is often full of shit).