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Mark Battersby and Sharon Bailin have created a blog to supplement their excellent textbook, Reason in the Balance.  I have added it to the RAIL Resources page. You can also have a look at it here.

Reason in the Balance presents students with a novel, inquiry-based approach to critical thinking. If you haven’t had a chance to check out their textbook yet, it Battersby and Bailin’s treatment gathers and synthesizes much of the best recent material from across the different approaches in argumentation theory. It’s worth a look.

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This past term I had a rather unpleasant experience in my critical thinking class. I was confronted with a subset of students who walked in the door assured that I had nothing to teach them about critical thinking. I learned this because they vocally resisted absolutely everything with which they did not personally agree. Unfortunately, this wound up being nearly everything in the class–especially when it ran against the notion that everything is a matter of opinion, a matter for an eternal debate in which all views are equally right.

Now, many readers are probably thinking, “cry me a river, that happens to me every term”. I agree. It happens to me almost every term too. What was different this time was how long it lasted (all term, without let-up) and how deep the resistance went. Not even the definition of deductive validity was accepted as offering a legitimate, if technical and limited, usage of the word ‘valid’.  The only validity these students recognized was the sense in which a point of view was “valid to me”, full-stop.  They didn’t bother learning the technical sense of ‘valid’ well enough to offer even cursory reasons for why they wouldn’t accept it. Nor could they articulate what it was, exactly, that made a point of view “valid to me” when asked. This is just one example. On multiple occasions, I got the distinct impression that my refrain that sometimes it takes more than an affirmative “gut feeling” to make it reasonable to hold a position was being taken as a personal affront by some of the students. “How dare I”, their attitude demanded, “try to teach them that things were not as they believed?” (more…)

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A new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the decline of philosophy in the academy stresses again (see my previous post) the importance of philosophy in providing critical thinking education.  I’m pleased to see the props the author (Lee McIntyre) gives to feminist philosophers for their attention to pressing issues of our time, but I’m not sure his general despair over philosophy is warranted given other reports of the rising popularity of philosophy education.

McIntyre may simply be building a career as an alarmist.  His most recent book “Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior” despairs over losing the emancipatory potential of the social sciences.  (See Berel Dov Lerner’s review here.)  One begins to sense a pattern, and while I haven’t had a chance to investigate “Dark Ages” yet, I’m sceptical that it claims to promote value-free science.

However, his message about the need for a revaluation of the significance of philosophy education, and the central role of critical thinking in that context, may be important.  (He has a book coming out on this too.)  He says “the goal—especially at the undergraduate level—should be to help students recognize that philosophy matters. Not just because it will improve their LSAT scores (which it will), but because philosophy has the potential to change the very fabric of who they are as human beings.”  This requires taking critical thinking to a much higher level than most undergraduate programs will.

McIntyre blames the discipline for hiring sessional instructors, which is absurd since those decisions are made by administrators rather than faculty members.  However, philosophers do tend to view critical thinking, argumentation, and introductory education as less valuable, and so assign it to sessional instructors.  That might be rethought, but only if we begin to have philosophers trained in those methodological issues.

As argumentation theory and informal logic continue to grow (see the introductory editorial in Cogency), giving rise to new journals (such as Cogency) and becoming institutionalized in new research centres and doctoral programs, perhaps we will have the resources for that.   As it stands, critical thinking is much less a part of the philosophy curriculum than one might expect.

Philosophy is not alone in promising (and perhaps failing) to teach “critical thinking,” since that buzzword is so heavily used in education that it is almost meaningless.  Yet philosophers continue to claim a rightful ownership of that terrain.  That claim and the pride that goes with it flies in the face of typical educational and hiring practices that undervalue teaching and research in argumentation and informal logic.

What we need to turn things around may be a radical reconsideration of what is the purpose of a philosophy education.  McIntyre suggests that should be an appreciation of the value of philosophy, and that may require greater focus on the skills of philosophy. That will certainly depend on a broad consciousness-raising among philosophers, not to stem the hiring of sessional instructors but to demand that instructors of courses and authors of textbooks in critical thinking have expertise and training in informal logic.

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Some readers of RAIL may already with John Bohannon’s brilliant competition Dance your PhD.  In the video below, given at a TED event in Brussels, Bohannon generalizes the point that Dance your PhD essentially makes: Explanations can be effectively delivered in any number of ways.  Though the suggestion that dancers might replace the ubiquitous and dreaded PowerPoint is a bit tongue-in-cheek to be sure, I think that the observations Bohannon makes here about it’s pitfalls are spot on and worthy of consideration.

I have to admit that I’m also seized with curiosity as to how or even whether this could be done with arguments.  At the very least the results would put a whole new “spin” on Michael Gilbert‘s theory of visceral argument. 🙂

Enjoy.

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This article from the Denver Post stresses the usefulness of philosophy, including how “emphasis on informal and symbolic logic” helps with computer science.  In accounts of philosophy curricula, unfortunately, reference to informal logic is typically just name-dropping, as the textbook authors are mostly not scholars in the field, and instructors rarely have any relevant training.  That seems to be the case here:  Colorado State has only one logician on faculty, and he specializes in formal logic.

This problem is deeply ironic, for the scholarship being neglected was developed for the very purpose of filling the gap between logical theory and logical practice. Much scholarship in symbolic logic may be irrelevant to undergraduate pedagogy, but informal logic is a movement developed substantially for the purpose of creating an approach to logic that would be more relevant to students.

When philosophers appeal to “informal logic” or philosophers claim ownership over the teaching of “critical thinking,” it verges on fraud.  The baiting with informal logic scholarship devoted to critical thinking and switching it for a loose distillation of the cultural standards in the discipline of philosophy is going to catch up with us eventually.

It’s time for philosophers to wake up and put our money, our faculty positions, our textbook buying power, and our textbook reviews where the scholarship is.  Philosophy can be highly relevant if we hold ourselves to higher scholarly standards.

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ANNOUNCEMENT AND CALL FOR PROPOSALS
The American Association of Philosophy Teachers

THE NINETEENTH INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP-CONFERENCE ON TEACHING
PHILOSOPHY
St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas
July 25 – July 29, 2012

Proposals for interactive workshops and panels related to teaching and
learning philosophy at any educational level are welcome.  We
especially encourage workshops and panels on the following topics:

•    innovative and successful teaching strategies
•    professional issues connected to teaching
•    how work in other disciplines can improve the teaching of
philosophy
•    engaging students outside the classroom
•    innovative uses of instructional technologies
•    the challenge of teaching in new settings
•    methods to improve student learning

PROPOSAL GUIDELINES (more…)

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Rhetoricians will appreciate the presence of an attentive, if quadrupedal, audience in addition to the speakers.

An interesting phone interview with Hugo Mercier popped up today on Point of Inquiry, the blog for the Center for Inquiry.  The role of the confirmation bias, disagreement, and polarization are covered in this interesting discussion.  There are some very familiar themes here for argumentation theorists. It’s well worth a listen.  The clear and economical discussion of what can be complicated ideas here makes the podcast something potentially useful in advanced classes on reasoning too. The interview is about 40 minutes long. Click on the link below to listen.

Interview with Hugo Mercier

(Note: The file may take a moment to load depending upon your connection speed, so do be patient!)

 

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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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Here’s a lovely graphical representation of the family of fallacies via The Fallacy Files. (Note: I found out about this infographic first via the Philosorapters blog, which gives advice on job hunting mostly but also occasionally on teaching philosophy.) I think many readers of RAIL will find this way of cutting the cake rather interesting, as the classification of some fallacies is…let’s say novel.  Others represented here are altogether new to me (e.g. the “Texas Sharpshooter”).

Whatever one makes of it, you have to tip your cap to the work that no doubt went into putting this concept map together. I’d love to see some alternatives.  Anyone out there up for it?

I'm a sucker for a nice infographic!

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Kairos currently presents three annual awards:

These awards are presented each year at the Computers and Writing Conference (winners need not be present although they are certainly encouraged to attend).

Please click on any of the award names for criteria and submission guidelines. Kairos also announces the calls for award nominations on various electronic mailing lists and on Kairosnews.

We also invite you to browse the list of past award winners to experience the variety of webtexts and weblogs which have qualified in the past.

The deadline for nominations for all awards is FEBRUARY 20, 2011.

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