...Versus Thinking

Here's Steve's response to both David's and Pete's ideas on confident thinking, critical thinking and the possibility of finding a 'third way'.

Versus Thinking

By Steve Hoggins

The importance of teaching critical thinking can be overstated. Though recent political events determine that it has been understated in many areas. The post-truth politics headlines suggested that critical thinking has failed to poke through the holes of Trumpist/Brexiteers’s poorly structured arguments. However, this hole-poking might be part of the problem.

The campaigns of Trump and Brexit brought out many voters, a number that no one expected. It seems they hadn’t spoken out before, not tried to explain their ideas, simply walked quietly into polling stations in their masses and made decisions without bothering to engage in the critical thinking that educators urge us to all teach.

Critical thinking is a double edge sword, though. For those that have the confidence and education it means one can build structures of thought that are coherent and withstand a certain amount of testing. It’s never completely secure, though. The field of science, for example, constantly revises its view of the world considering new arguments for theories, and inviting criticism from others (ideally). So for many, critical thinking is destabilising. It upsets their assumptions and undermined their beliefs about the world, and that can be terrifying.

So perhaps we need them to be confident thinkers. Confident enough to withstand the criticism and like the good philosopher: re-evaluate their views. As I sit here writing, this sounds like an ideal combination. If we all had the resilience and grit to enter an intellectual area, where we are prepared to take hits to our structured thinking and rebuild if necessary, we would be able to make good decisions. However, the suggestion of how it ought to be is a bit too far removed from how it is.

The general incredulity, mine included, at people’s reasons for voting in absurd people and ideas, suggests that there are swathes of people not thinking critically. My experience in teaching adults and children tells me that critical thinking makes people nervous unless you have high-quality relationships and have set up a respectful space to dialogue. Another key element is the exploratory element.

Children often propose ridiculous arguments. Adults do it too, as I have just mentioned, but with children I have never told them their argument is ridiculous. There are good reasons for this A) ‘Ridiculous’ is no kind of argument, B) They don’t have the confidence to stand up to criticism and C) They fall silent and stop thinking. If I point out the holes in a child’s argument, through explicit stating it or leading question, the response is the same – silence.

‘BE CONFIDENT!’ I want to shout at them. This of course wouldn’t work either. If I want to engage them with better thinking (which may include being confident and being critical) I have to first engage with their ideas, try to see what they are saying, view their ideas favourably and see how far they can go.

I find this works with adults too and it is far more interesting. Critical discussions are ones that invite you to destroy assumptions, challenge propositions and generally reduce another’s, less than perfectly structured ideas, to rubble. Great for truth seeking in an environment where everyone understands the need for rigor and is prepared to be wrong. Not so good for making people think, especially young people and Trump voters.

Curious conversations make less progress towards the truth. They invite people to say what they want without thinking it through. Assumptions are largely left unchallenged and propositions are entertained. The interlocutors are not trying to seek the holes in each other’s thinking, but rather trying to see the whole of each other’s thinking. I love these conversations. Being wrong feels quite comfortable and that is something that helps me to fully flesh out my initially incoherent thoughts. Furthermore, the style of interaction makes later criticism easier to take – ‘Well she has been so generous in trying to comprehend my other ideas, I feel in a better position to take a challenge’. This then feeds my resilience and I go on to be able to take larger and larger hits to my thinking, without crumbling and falling silent.

So I think Pete Worley and David Birch are right when they write about the need for critical and confident thinking, respectively. What I would suggest is that we start with a kind of curious way of thinking, so that we can introduce the confidence and the criticism.

You don’t have to hug Brexit/Trump voters, just get them to open up a bit; see what’s inside.

You can poke holes in it later.

If you haven't read them already...

Take a look at Pete's original article by clicking on this link to the Innovate My School website, and David's article on 'Critical Thinking vs Confident Thinking' by clicking the link below.

Posted by Joe Tyler on 12th December 2016 at 12:00am