Friday, September 21, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part I

An essay I wrote several years ago and which Memoria Press recently republished was the subject of a radio discussion program at forwardradio.org yesterday. The essay was "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," and the radio program is "Critical Thinking For Everyone" (click "all shows" and scroll to the bottom, show #39), hosted by Patty Payette and Brian Barnes, two critical thinking scholars at the University of Louisville.

The link to the show that discusses my article does not appear to be up yet, but you might check in later if you are interested.

Although the title of my article was intentionally hyperbolic, in the thesis of my article there was no hyperbole at all. It was that the vast majority of educators who talk about "critical thinking skills" are incapable of defining the term, and that it serves, practically speaking, as a promotional slogan and an excuse for the failure to do things essential in education, such as teaching academic content to students.

In the article I said, "Not one in a hundred even knows what he means by this term," a common figurative expression like "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," or "her eyes were as wide as saucers," or "he was as skinny as a toothpick." But apparently critical thinking professionals are more literally-minded that most. Near the beginning of the program, Barnes challenged this statement by pointing to a study that purportedly found that fully "nineteen out of a hundred" educators could define critical thinking skills.

Of course this assumes that those performing studies to determine the percentage of educators who could define critical thinking skills could themselves define critical thinking skills. And I contend that not one in a hundred researchers who do such studies could define critical thinking skills.

I said "vast majority," but, in fact, in my own private, unofficial survey of educators, I have yet to encounter anyone who can give me a coherent definition. And I have talked to far more than a hundred educators on this topic.

In fact, I was waiting to hear a definition of it on the show, but I never heard one. At one point a list of examples of critical thinking skills practices was given. I guess that constitutes a rudimentary connotative definition, and that is certainly informative, but it doesn't constitute the kind of clear, essential, delimited definition (what one would be called a denotative definition) that one would need to have in order to properly design and implement programs that would be useful in schools, which I gather is one of the themes of this show.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll discuss that in a later post.

I will be posting several responses to comments made on the show, none of which, I hope, will not be so impudent as to cause the "Critical Thinking for Everyone" people to retract the gracious offer they have made to me to come on their show to respond, which, according to Patty Payette, the show's host, should be sometime in October or early November. I'll post the date here when we have one.
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