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Posts Tagged ‘Donald Lazere’

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest article by longtime critical thinking advocate and researcher Donald Lazere.  Prof. Lazere is Professor Emeritus of English at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

WHY IS THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOLARS SAYING SUCH AWFUL THINGS ABOUT CRITICAL THINKING?

Donald Lazere, Professor Emeritus of English, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Two of National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood’s recent “Innovations” blogs in the online Chronicle of Higher Education renewed NAS’s long-running attack on the theory and teaching of critical thinking, about which he and I had an e-mail go-round a few years ago. I think there have been several semantic misunderstandings here that have needlessly exacerbated the dispute, and I will try, once again, to overcome these here.

In “The Curriculum of Forgetting“ (Nov. 21), Wood wrote “What we need is a reversal of cultural tides, a restoration of the basic principle that the university is responsible for keeping the past imaginatively alive and available for the present.  The stance of generalized antagonism to the whole of Western civilization and the elevation of “critical thinking” in the sense of facile reductionism (everything at bottom is about race-gender-class hierarchy) makes the university function more and more as our society’s chief source of anti-intellectualism.”

In “Leaf Taking” (Dec. 4), he added, “We have elevated ‘critical thinking’ as the chief and worthiest end of a liberal education.  Perhaps it is time for a reassessment.   The critical thinker who is deaf to culture’s deeper appeals is impoverished in some profound ways.  He is equipped to take everything apart but not to put anything together.  We need more minds capable of moving at ease and grasping the whole.”

I posted the following comment in response to the Dec. 4 piece, but as I should have made clearer, it was directed more to the previous one: (more…)

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In a recent post on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, frequent contributor and NAS president Peter Wood laments:

“We have elevated “critical thinking” as the chief and worthiest end of a liberal education.  Perhaps it is time for a reassessment.   The critical thinker who is deaf to culture’s deeper appeals is impoverished in some profound ways.  He is equipped to take everything apart but not to put anything together.  We need more minds capable of moving at ease and grasping the whole.”

Wood’s complaint about critical thinking is the punchline to a piece that is largely about how much of intellectual worth is lost when scholars and societies view culture (any culture) through a myopic, modern lens.  To assess this complaint fairly one has to have an idea as to what Wood means by the much vexed term “critical thinking”. Thankfully, he tells us what he means in another posting on the Chronicle website:

“The stance of generalized antagonism to the whole of Western civilization and the elevation of “critical thinking” in the sense of facile reductionism (everything at bottom is about race-gender-class hierarchy) makes the university function more and more as our society’ chief source of anti-intellectualism.”

It is hard to disagree with the substance of Wood’s assertion here. Though it is important to take account of how gender, race, and class might exert distorting effects on one’s thinking, critical thinking certainly does not reduce to such considerations, simpliciter. But why think that it does in the first place? Wood’s assertions here and elsewhere (for example, here) seem to presuppose that everyone in the academy (at least in the US) thinks of critical thinking in this way.

But they don’t. (more…)

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Puzzle Piece, by Wikimedia Commons user Crazy-phunk

Puzzle piece, via Wikimedia Commons

Don Lazere’s short but punchy piece in the Chronicle on the beleaguered state of critical thinking education in the American academy is well worth a read.

While I find myself agreeing with much of what he says, I think he misses one of the principal actors in the play: the increasing role of corporate influence in and on the structure and culture of American higher education.  Increasingly, administrators and board members are not professional academics but professional bureaucrats and managers who see their primary task as generating revenue.  This leads to a mentality that sees terms like ‘critical thinking’ as buzzwords, bogus assessment exercises, fodder for mission statements or worse, “branding” campaigns.  The perils therein are familiar enough and rants plentiful enough that I’ll leave it there.

What interests me the most about Lazere’s short piece is how it fits with what has really been an explosion of formal methods in the last thirty or so years.  Indeed, formal logic has changed so much that it is now virtually unrecognizable to those of us who remember the time when advances in modal logic were considered “cutting edge” to most in philosophy. From today’s perspective, the basic course in predicate calculus looks a lot like “baby logic”. ‘Critical thinking’, as Lazere points out, doesn’t seem to have much real purchase at all anymore:

(more…)

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