Why teach critical thinking even as an entry point?

An earlier post pushed against the teaching of critical thinking as a coherent set of skills and dispositions to be fostered on their own, as in the “teaching of thinking.” Instead, teaching critical thinking could be presented as an opportunity to introduce tools and processes that the student may adapt adopt and adapt in the larger process of developing their capacities to make change in their work, lives, and world. But why teach critical thinking even in this sense of an entry point to change making? Why not pursue “action learning” from the get go? Read more of this post


Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change: New prospectus and bio

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


10 June 2011
New prospectus and bio

The Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change seeks to support inquiries, teaching-learning interactions, and other practices of critical intellectual exchange and cooperation that challenge the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place that normally restrict access to, understanding of, and influence on the production of scientific knowledge and technologies.

The Collaborative builds on a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach to education that allows students to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word).

A deeper rationale for the Collaborative can be given, involving the ways that we have to bridge gaps in our inherently unbounded realities, which can be enhanced through a sequence of 4Rs—Respect, Risk, Revelation, and Re-engagement. Before asking for these ideas to be explained, consider the following bio.

Bio—Peter Taylor
How have I come to be the kind of person who would initiate a Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change? Let me tease out four strands to my story. (If readers resonate with any one of these strands, I encourage them to participate in the Collaborative; through the ensueing experience the other strands might eventually make more sense.)

1. Social change activism lies behind the Collaborative’s explicit mission of challenging the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place in science. During the 1970s my environmental and social activism in Australia led to studies and research in ecology and agriculture. I moved to the United States to undertake doctoral studies in ecology with advisors who saw their scientific and political work as part of the same cloth. I continue to promote this vision of science as politics, even as I have become less active in social movements.

2. Investigation of complexity and change describes my work in ecology and environmental studies, as well as when I analyze and interpret the social situation in which research is undertaken (contributing what is now called science and technology studies or STS. In recent years my investigations of complexity and change have extended to social epidemiological approaches that address the life course development of health and behavior.) I argue that both the situations studied and the social situation of the researchers can be characterized in terms of “unruly complexity” or “intersecting processes” that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time. These cannot be understood from an outside view; instead positions of engagement must be taken within the complexity. Knowledge production needs to be linked with planning for action and action itself in an ongoing process so that knowledge, plans, and action can be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike.

3. Innovation in teaching and participatory process. Having this last picture in mind, I explore ways to stimulate researchers (and students training to become researchers) to examine the complexity of their social situatedness so as to change the ways they address the complexity of the situations they study. In broader terms, I want researchers and students to be critical thinkers and reflective practitioners in the sense of contrasting established paths in science, education, and society with others that might be taken, acting upon the insights gained, and taking stock of outcomes. The tools and processes I experiment with in workshops and teaching draw on my work at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) directing Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT), a graduate Program that aims to provide its 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.”

4. Institutional development. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, so I contribute actively to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. In particular, the new CCT track on “Science in the Changing World” and the undergraduate Program in Science, Technology and Values at UMB as well as the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change give me opportunities to develop courses and to promote discussion and teaching innovation concerning the interactions between scientific developments. My experience teaching two graduate courses using a Problem-Based Learning approach—Scientific and Political Change, and Gender, Race and the Complexities of Science and Technology—has led me to this latest initiative, the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change.

For more details, see:
1. Taylor, P.J. (2010) “Biology as Politics: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Lewontin and Levins (An essay review of Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health),” Science as Culture, 19 (2): 241-253.
2. —— (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3. —— (2009) Guided Tour of Peter Taylor’s teaching, http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/PJTTeaching
4. —— (2011). Guided Tour of Peter Taylor’s service, http://ptaylor.wikispaces.umb.edu/servicereview

Vertical-unity—Relationship between the 4Rs and Probe-Connect-Create Change-Reflect II

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


8 June ’11
Relationship between the 4Rs and Probe-Connect-Create Change-Reflect (continued)

Does the following parallel work?

Probe Connect Create change Reflect
Respect Risk Revelation Re-engagement

Could they all be about bridging gaps that always arise given the unruliness of complexity?

Q: Why would you take a risk? Why would you probe?
(These questions are asked in the spirit that change (which includes actions) flows readily once the vertical-unity is in place.)
Answer 1: Because there are necessarily gaps to bridge.
A2: Because once you have respect and connections you can risk and probe—you don’t need to continue along previous lines.
A3: You don’t have to take a risk or probe. Indeed, we can expect that you won’t all the time—the support will be insufficient. However, when you are ready to do so the 4Rs will help—or the 4Rs will help you get ready.

Q: Why would you Probe-Connect-Create Change-Reflect?

If you invoke the factor in the left column, we ask why and then categorise the reasons given in the other 5 columns

Activist Intellectual Pedagogical Institutional not clear
Broaden access to the production of science knowledge & technology Social commitment Interest in promoting lifelong learning
Social commitment ?
Interest in promoting lifelong learning Disposition for LLL (esp. for P-C-CC-R);
Bridge reality’s gappiness
As part of re-engagement flowing from 3Rs
Disposition for LLL ?
Bridge reality’s gappiness Unruly complexity makes this unavoidable Juggling the 6 aspects of the mandala makes this do-able
Why seek re-engagement flowing from 3Rs Enhances disposition for LLL; Enhances bridging of gappiness of reality
As part of participating in the Collaborative Attracted by the explicit mission of the Collaborative
Attractiveness of the explicit mission of the Collaborative Broaden access.. Further problem-based learning
Further problem-based learning To promote lifelong learning; To add tool in teaching repertoire As part of initiatives and experiments
Add tool in teaching repertoire ?
initiatives and experiments
Further problem-based learning; As part of promoting open spaces
Promote open spaces Enhancesre-engagement flowing from 3Rs

The critique of science during the 1970s

During the 1960s Bookchin (1962), Carson (1962), and Commoner (1963; 1971) linked ecology-as-social-action to criticisms of the dominant directions of scientific research.  Social responsibility in science was promoted by the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, the Union of Concerned Scientists (in the U.S.), and Pugwash (which focused on reducing the danger of armed conflict in a nuclear age).

During the 1970s more radical, anti-capitalist critiques of science and social relations were developed in the U.S. by Science for the People (see especially the critiques of biological determinism in Science for the People 1977 and the related work of Chase 1977) and in England by the Radical Science Journal (see Levidow 1986, especially Young’s introduction on the origins of the “Radical Science” movement; Levidow and Young 1981; and Radical Science Editorial Collective 1977).  In this context Werskey completed his illuminating history of an earlier generation of left-wing scientists in England who saw “science, progress, socialism as equivalent concepts” (Young, p. xiv in the forward to the 1988 reprint of Werskey 1978; see also Werskey’s preface to the reprint, which reflects on the way the 1970s critique of science shaped his account.)  In contrast, left-wing scientists of the 1970s who saw their science as a political project recognized that science could bolster domination and inequality (Roberts 1979; Rose 1982; Levins and Lewontin 1985; see also Illich 1973 and 1976 for advocacy of de-professionalization and of “convivial” technology and medicine).

The critique of science also stimulated interpretation of science in relation to the historical and social context in which it was formed.  Kuhn (1970) was widely cited as opening up science to such contextualization, but younger historians and sociologists began to take the social interpretation of science much further than Kuhn had (see, for example, Young 1985).

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press).


Bookchin, M. [pseudonym: L. Herber] (1962). Our Synthetic Environment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Carson, R. (1963). Silent Spring. Greenwich, Conn., Fawcett.

Chase, A. (1977). The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Commoner, B. (1963). Science and Survival. New York: Viking Press.

—— (1971). The Closing Circle. New York: Knopf.

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper & Row.

—— (1976). Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health. New York: Pantheon Books.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levidow, L. (Ed.) (1986). Radical Science. London: Free Association Books. [especially Young’s introduction on the origins of the “Radical Science” movement]

—— and R. Young (Eds.) (1981). Science, Technology and the Labour Process: Marxist Studies. London: CSE Books.

Levins, R. and R. Lewontin (1985). The Dialectical Biologist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Radical Science Editorial Collective (1977). “Editorial.” Radical Science Journal 5: 3-7.

Roberts, A. (1979). The Self-Managing Environment. London: Allison & Busby.

Rose, S. (Ed.) (1982). Against Biological Determinism: The Dialectics of Biology Group. London: Allison & Busby.

Science for the People (Ed.) (1977). Biology as a Social Weapon. Minneapolis: Burgess.

Werskey, G. (1988 [1978]). The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s. London: Free Association Books.

Young, R. M. (1985). Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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