Critical thinking, Creative thinking & Gender

A. Consider this schema that I used to discuss the idea of creativity in context:
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It is clearly complex: Many strands, many cross-connections, many things going on in addition to the focal outcome.

Now consider this simpler image, where the light bulb stands for an idea or inspiration that a creative brain comes up with:

Even that additional elements of this logo from the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program present a simple image:
fallani125

B. The contrast between the first schema and the simpler images speaks to my sense of critical thinking as thinking that depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. We understand things better when we have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives (Taylor 1995, cited in Taylor 2001).

C. Now consider the following three levels of analysis of gender in relation to knowledge-making (based on previous post [originally made 3/3/13 on a blog for a course Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology ])

    #1. Under-representation of women in research areas and in technological design.
    Obstacles to and under-recognition of their contributions.
    Possibilities for women’s standpoint to address aspects of the world under-recognized by men.

    #2. Biases in knowledge and technologies [and language] that claim to represent progress, efficiency, or other universal interests,
    but in practice promote the unequal social status of men over women.

    #3. The pervasiveness of gender-like dualisms in which one category is subordinate to the other and complex spectra are purified into dichotomies.
    The suppression of overlapping ranges, multiplicities and hybrids that trouble these conceptual schemes.

D. These three levels provide a set of tensions on which to build critical thinking. For example, if we observe under-recognition of contributions of women, we might look for places where women’s contributions are recognized and compare the two situations. Moreover, the set of tensions as a whole exists in tension with a fourth level, namely:

    #4. The contribution of gendered resources among the heterogeneous resources that knowledge-makers link together over time as they construct and reconstruct established knowledge and reliable technologies.

What is a “resource” and what makes one “gendered”? A: “[R]esearchers establish knowledge and develop their practices through diverse and often modest practical choices, which is the same as saying they are involved in contingent and on-going mobilizing of materials, tools, people, [themes] and other resources into webs of interconnected resources” (Taylor 2005, 225). A gendered resource is, therefore, some material, tool, group of people, theme, and so on that is associated with one gender more than another (as in #1) or biases against women hidden underneath what is supposedly universal (as in #2) or viewing the world in dualisms that resonate with the preceding (as in #3). Lest this sound too negative, a very significant source of resources has been the existence of a feminist movement(s) that provides solidarity and support around efforts to contest the inequalities.

A further tension (for critical thinking) is that people talk about angles #1-3 as if they have weight on their own, not as part of the complexity of #4. Yet another tension is seeing such talk as a resource, among others, in the heterogeneous construction.

E. Look back at the initial schema. The *’s denote multiple points of engagement. Using the critical thinking tensions above can be a way to insert gender into the intersection of strands (or heterogeneous construction). No engagement on its own suffices to change the focal outcome; they need to be linked together and even then there is no guarantee that the outcome will shift the way intended. Linking engagements together means collaborating with others given that each person’s position, skills, and resources prepares them only for a subset of possible engagements.

F. The idea of collaboration in linking multiple, partial engagements within intersecting strands that do not guarantee an outcome recalls a metaphor from my paper, “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge“: “One’s development as a critical thinker is like a personal journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas. Both involve risk, open up questions, create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, require support, yields personal change, and so on.”

This picture is different from the view of critical thinking as scrutinizing the reasoning, assumptions, and evidence behind claims. And from critical as judgement and finding fault according to some standards. Journeying draws attention to the inter- and intra-personal dimensions of people developing their thinking.

G. This picture of critical thinking parallels the picture of creative thinking as a process in context that led me to adapt a schema for the heterogeneous construction of knowledge into the original schema in this post:

Each of us navigates the distributed complexity in part by trying to impart order according to our sense of our self—our identity, aspirations or goals, and will to choose among goals and move towards them.
We achieve some goals and then have greater capacity, knowledge, skills, plans, and direction to keep moving and developing.
We also have setbacks and revise our goals.  Indeed, our self-directedness can be buffeted or even threatened by the order-imparting efforts of other people navigating their distributed complexities.
Yet relationships with others are a source of resources and support (material, emotional, etc.) from outside ourselves, which help shape how far and in what directions our movement and development happens.
Relationships are also a source of unplanned conjunctions or intersections that we draw from.
Such connections can help us to not simply continue along previous lines and, at the same time, to clarify our sense of directedness as individuals.

H. In one sense this picture is about the complexity of angle #4 on gender in relation to knowledge-making. In another sense — a sense in tension with that — the picture reminds us of a simple theme often associated with feminist analyses: interdependency and interrelatedness is the foundation for our existence — from the single celled zygote to the newborn and onwards.

I.  Two parting questions, repeated from the previous post:  a) What case studies and situations in the material world to engage in in order to complement the abstraction of A-H?  b) How does this all translate into the terms used by feminist teachers now and in previous decades?

References
Taylor, Peter J. (2001) “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking,” http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/journey.html
—- (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

A manifesto of creative thinking

A google hangout recording of my presentation on a creative thinking manifesto with an attempt to apply Ben Schwendener’s theme of vertical unity as a basis for improvisation or horizontal changes: http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/TaylorManifesto4Dec13.mp4

References
On the Creative Thinking manifesto project: http://cct.wikispaces.com/CEDec13
On the 4Rs: http://wp.me/p1gwfa-og
On Probe-Connect-etc.: http://wp.me/p1gwfa-og
On vertical unity and horizontal changes: http://wp.me/p1gwfa-mz
On the “mandala”: http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/MakingSpace.html

Fruitful, generative, cultivating…Alternatives to the terms creative and creativity

Why am I looking for alternatives to the terms creative and creativity?

  1. Because the history of creative begins with a divine power is what creates, which leads to a divinely given power (e.g., “genius” or “spark”) is involved in being creative (see Keywords by Raymond Williams).  Even if the term is extended to a talent that can be developed, the emphasis is on it being something that a person has, not on the conditions or relationships that support the expression of that talent.
  2. I am exploring with others the idea that “Everyone can think creatively,” which moves the emphasis to how one helps people (oneself included) open up or see alternative paths and how one dispells beliefs that creativity is something that special individuals have.  Even if I used the term creativity to refer to a path-opening conjunction of people (and their component strands), context, tools and processes, and focus on a product, the audience would still hear the other connotations referred to in #1.

One alternative is fruitful.  Another is generative — see http://thesaurus.com/browse/generative and click on the tab “as in productive” to see a rich range of associations that include:

  • advantageous, beneficial, constructive, dynamic, effective, energetic, fertile, gratifying, profitable, prolific, rewarding, useful, valuable, vigorous, worthwhile, generative, fecund, gainful, inventive, plentiful, producing, rich…

Another thought is something derived from “cultivating.”  Both the person helping someone to see that “Everyone can think creatively” and the person who opens up or sees alternative paths is cultivating.  The thesaurus website above gives a range of associations I am happy to work with:

  • breed, fertilize, harvest, manage, plant, prepare, propagate, raise, tend, crop, dress, farm, garden, labor, mature, plow, ripen, seed, till, work

Is there a quality we could associate with gardening?  Gardenizer?  Gardinative?

Having been asked for a guest blog post about creativity

I direct an unusual graduate program called Critical and Creative Thinking (http://www.cct.umb.edu).  I think we do quite well in achieving our goal, which is to provide our mid-career or career-changing students with “knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.”   Before explaining my sense of creativity, let me explain why critical thinking is combined with creative thinking and also, ‘though it is not in the name, with reflective practice.

Critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice are valued, of course, in all fields. In critical thinking we seek to scrutinize the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue-by others and by oneself; such scrutiny is enhanced by placing ideas and practices in tension with alternatives. Key functions of creative thinking include generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions that are unique and effective, and exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, make new connections, and see how things could be otherwise. In reflective practice we take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise our approaches accordingly.

Against this backdrop, my thinking is that creativity comes not out of individual inspiration, but from borrowing and connecting.  The more items in your tool box—the more themes, heuristics (rules of thumb), and open questions you are working with—the more likely you are to make a new connection and see how things could be otherwise, that is, to be creative.  Yet, in order to build up a set of tools that works for you, it is necessary to experiment, take risks, and reflect on the outcomes.  Such reflective practice is like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas—it involves risk, opens up questions, provides more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change.  We might then say that creativity is part of what happens to “journeying inquirers.”

As an educator, I like to play with the 3Rs (only one of which actually starts with an R).  Here (from page 257 of Taking Yourself Seriously) are the many Rs that journeying inquirers might pursue—sometimes focusing in, sometimes opening out—in their personal and professional development as critical, creative, and reflective practitioners.

Reading

Review

Reasoning w/ respect to evidence & alternatives

Relationship w/ oneself (moving towards autonomy)

Reflection & metacognition

wRiting

Relationships w/ peers & allies (dialogue & collaboration)

Risk & experiment

Rest

Rearrange, adapt & create

Reception: being Read, heard, & Reviewed

Relationships w/ authority (negotiate power & standards)

Revision (incl. dialogue around written work)

Relaxation

Research & evaluation (learning from the work of others & your own)

Respect (explore difference)

Responsibility (concern w/ aims, means & consequences)

Repose

Recursion & practice (address same concern from many angles & in variety of settings)

Reevaluation (of emotions at root of responses) so as to better take initiative

Reconstruction (personal/organizational/social change)

Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice: Contents of a possible booklet

The previous post introduced a possible booklet on supporting the development of critical thinking, creative thinking and reflective practice.  Here is a possible Table of Contents (drawn from article as well as from the book Taking Yourself Seriously).

Part 1
Sense of Place Map (with diagram or example)
Daily writing
Phases of Research & Engagement
The many Rs of personal and professional development
Making Space for Taking Initiative in and through Relationships
Developing a Critical Thinking manifesto (with example)
Supportive Listening
Varieties of feedback (excerpts from Elbow with permission) & example of believing and doubting
Challenges of supporting critical thinking
Avid learning/Probe-Connect-Reflect-Create Change
4Rs
Dialogue Process
5-phase format
Small group roles
“Office hours”
Conditions for a successful workshop

Part 2
Stories of people developing as reflective practitioners

Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice: Sketch of a possible booklet

The small critical thinking guides of Richard Paul and Linda Elder have received wide circulation, but the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program at UMass Boston has something distinctive to convey about supporting the development of critical thinking, as well as creative thinking and reflective practice. Thus this sketch of a possible booklet.

A small guide to Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice

Tools and Processes

In a sense subscribed to by all teachers, critical thinking means that students are bright and engaged, ask questions, and think about the course materials until they understand well established knowledge and competing approaches. This becomes more significant when students develop their own processes of active inquiry, which they can employ in new situations, beyond the bounds of our particular classes, indeed, beyond their time as students. My sense of critical thinking is, however, more specific; it depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want students to see that they understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. At this level, critical thinking should not depend on students rejecting conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established cannot be taken for granted. Students can no longer expect that if they just wait long enough the teacher will provide complete and tidy conclusions; instead they have to take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Anxieties inevitably arise for students when they have to respond to new situations knowing that the teacher will not act as the final arbiter of their success. A high level of critical thinking is possible when students explore such anxieties and gain the confidence to face uncertainty and ambiguity. To develop as a critical thinker is, then, like journeying into unfamiliar areas, which involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first, requires support, and yields personal and professional change. In a similar spirit, in Reflective Practice students take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise their approaches accordingly. Creative Thinking is about generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions, exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, making new connections, and seeing how things could be otherwise—that is, formulating alternatives that can be held in tension with previous ideas and practices.

This booklet describes a range of tools and processes that provide space and support for students to develop as critical thinkers, creative thinkers, and reflective practitioners. The key challenge is to help people make knowledge and practice from insights and experience that they are not prepared, at first, to acknowledge. Each entry then raises some questions for further inquiry or discussion. The hope is that the booklet as a whole stimulates readers to grapple with issues they were not aware they faced and to generate questions beyond those any teacher presents. We invite readers to understand this booklet’s emphasis on the intra- and inter-personal by placing it in tension with philosophical formulations of teaching critical thinking that insist that students scrutinize the reasoning, assumptions, and evidence behind claims and adopt the connotations that the term “critical” often has with judgement and finding fault according to some standards.

See next post for possible Table of Contents.

Guided Tour of my teaching (1998-2009)

Although my training is in the life and environmental sciences, critical thinking and critical pedagogy became central to my intellectual and professional project as I encouraged students and researchers to contrast the paths taken in science, society, education with other paths that might be taken, and to foster their acting upon the insights gained. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, and so I continue to contribute actively, to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines.

(Thus began a guided tour to my teaching, which I prepared in February 2009 to support a nomination for our University’s teaching award.  It continued…)

As a UMass Boston professor I have taught twelve different graduate courses: six in my original specialty of science and its social context; four required courses in the Critical & Creative Thinking [CCT] Graduate Program on critical thinking, research, writing, and reflective practice; and another two concerning computers and learning/education. Each of these courses has involved development of a new syllabus (or, in one case, a substantial revision) and subsequent ongoing revision. In my statement for tenure review in 2001, I noted:

  • One strength of my teaching lies in my willingness, in response to programmatic needs, to take on courses outside my specialty or without previous models and to learn from the experience of doing so. This learning is evident in the evolution of: the textual materials of my courses (syllabi, course packets, handouts, etc.); the course mechanics (use of email and websites, records kept to track each student’s development, required conferences with students, etc.); and the teaching/learning interactions I establish. My learning is also evident in the opportunities I have taken to get training and experience in experiential and problem-based learning, facilitation of group process, and leading faculty development workshops. Finally, my learning from teaching is evident in original contributions I have made to wider discussions about conceptual and pedagogical issues that have arisen.

This “guided tour” to my teaching is divided into three phases (in the next three posts), more to make use of the materials compiled for my tenure and promotion than to mark any disjunctures–experience gained in the earlier years feeds into actions taken in the later ones and the themes continue from one phase to the next.

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