As with many other areas of life, education tends to be a perpetual victim of trends and fads. Unmoored from any deep-rooted principle or practice, the contemporary classroom and campus now finds itself blown here and there by whatever assertions are made by “the powers that be” in the world of books and best practices.
One of the long-running hold-overs of this approach to learning has been critical thinking. In a recent First Things article, Josh Mayo asserts that we should think critically about critical thinking. He’s not alone: look at the supportive quotes by various authors and thinkers. Mayo asserts:
The culture of critical thinking often assumes a hazardous anthropology that divorces our cognitive selves from our affective selves, erecting a Berlin Wall between rationality and feeling. Such is the case, it seems, with one professor’s recent call for “dispassionate” inquiry: “Emotions are, by definition,” Rob Jenkins writes, “not based on reason and, therefore, form a poor, shaky foundation for decision-making.”
The article hinges on a question that actual made me chuckle a bit:
Do we really believe that the problem with most students is a superabundance of zeal in the classroom?
A certain kind of thinking, one that is generative and constructive, can be difficult to find in today’s classroom (particularly when it comes to something beyond math or science, I think).
Near the end of the article, Mayo asserts:
Students are hungry for values and norms, but are we feeding them? “What educator among you, if his student asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” Maybe the teacher who doesn’t know what true food is—the stuff that will actually feed souls. Critical inquiry alone can’t sustain a student, for in Patrick Deneen’s words, when we swear off all intellectual ties, we “deprive ourselves of the capacity to think truly critically.” A lethargy will pervade the classroom, a sleepy consciousness “that is neither capable of true criticism nor of any real independent thought.” Critical thinking will cease to be thinking.
I would like to think that “students are hungry for values and norms,” but I’m not quite convinced of it. Part of that is because they’ve been in “critical thinking classrooms” so long that anything beyond the value or norm of the self is almost unimaginable. I would like to be proven wrong. And I’d like to get to a place to have this important conversation with more people. Such a conversation is vital to the future that I hope many of us would like to be a part of.
You can (and should) read the entire article here.
(image from thejosevilson.com)