An indirect approach to promoting critical thinking

Instead of asking a person to defend their thinking–to examine their evidence, assumptions, and reasoning–or put it under the spotlight–how does the idea/practice look like from this angle, that angle…?–the following process shifts the focus to helping the person shape inquiry. Read more of this post

Critical thinking, Creative thinking & Gender

A. Consider this schema that I used to discuss the idea of creativity in context:
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:

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Now consider the following three levels of analysis of gender in relation to knowledge-making (based on previous post [originally made 3/3/13 on a blog for a course Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology ])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

Taylor, Peter J. (2001) “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking,”
—- (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Critical thinking and gender stereotypes

Elbow’s paragraph below (source) seems believable until I start to ask how to move beyond it. Then I doubt that the implication that men should strive for more believing activities and women for more doubting activities.
Read more of this post

Critical thinking in an arena of abundant information

Here is the start of a list of themes for critical thinking in an arena of abundant information, namely, the internet: Read more of this post

Indirect paths to critical thinking

This topic: “Explore possibilities of using critical thinking to develop empathy in trying to understand alternate perspectives and behaviors in areas of culture (politics, education, social movements) where polarization exists and tends to push ideas and people to extreme opposing sides” led me to begin to:

1. Catalog indirect paths to critical thinking; and
2. Raise questions about promotion of these paths and their relevance to empathy in polarized culture.

1. Indirect paths to critical thinking

Instead of directly naming what you, perhaps correctly, see as lack of sound assumptions, evidence, and reasoning, work with people in ways that lead them to (re)gain access to their full intelligence.  The paths to critical thinking are not only indirect, but may also be windy and protracted.  (See links for details and references.)

• Re-evaluation of past hurts through supportive listening with a forward-looking orientation, extending
• Restorative justice processes,
• Cycles & epicycles of action research,
• Slow mode refractive practice,
• Building a studio or supportive space,
• Critical thinking as a journey,, including

The central challenge… is that of helping people make knowledge and practice from insights and experience that they are not prepared, at first, to acknowledge. Some related challenges for the teacher/facilitator are to:
a. Help students to generate questions about issues they were not aware they faced.
b. Acknowledge and mobilize the diversity inherent in any group, including the diversity of mental, emotional, situational, and relational factors that people identify as making re-seeing possible.
c. Help students clear mental space so that thoughts about an issue in question can emerge that had been below the surface of their attention
d. Teach students to listen well. (Listening well seemed to help students tease out alternative views. Without alternatives in mind scrutiny of one’s own evidence, assumptions and logic, or of those of others is difficult to motivate or carry out; see also point i, below. Being listened to, in turn, seems to help students access their intelligence—to bring to the surface, reevaluate, and articulate things they already know in some sense.)
e. Support students on their journeys into unfamiliar or unknown areas. (Support is needed because these journeys involve risk, open up questions, create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, and yield personal change.)
f. Encourage students to initiative in and through relationships, which can be thought of in terms of themes that are in some tension with each other: “negotiate power/standards,” “horizontal community,” “develop autonomy,” “acknowledge affect,” “be here now,” and “explore difference.”
g. Address fear felt by students and by oneself as their teacher.
h. Have confidence and patience that students will become more invested in the process and the outcomes when insights emerge from themselves.
i. Raise alternatives. (Critical thinking depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. People understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives.)
j. Introduce and motivate opening up heuristics [themes], that is, propositions that are simple to convey, but always point to the greater complexity of particular cases and to further work needed to study those cases.
k. Be patient and persistent about students taking up the alternatives, opening up heuristics, and other tools and applying them to open up questions in other areas. (Experiment and experience are needed for students to build up a set of tools that work for them.)
l. Take seriously the creativity and capacity-building that seems to follow from well-facilitated participation, while still allowing space for researchers to insert the “translocal,” that is, their analysis of changes that arise beyond the local region or at a larger scale than the local.

• Others? — please suggest

2. Questions

• Examine how any of these paths can get co-opted to delay change and perpetuate privilege
• Examine, in turn, how co-optations can get turned around
• Identify fertile or strategic locations for change
• Examine whether focusing on these allows other locations to get more entrenched

Teaching Critical Thinking in Age of Digital Credulity

Howard Rheingold wants to address how to “impart to young people the always useful but now essential skills of how to question, investigate, analyze and judge that link they just got in email or the factual claim they just found through a search engine.”  In his video interview with me, I emphasize the “challenge of… get[ting] students to take themselves seriously — not to perform according to some standards of mastery of content, but to identify projects that are really important to them to advance in the program and to continue afterward.”

Design for Living Complexities: an open course has begun

This course explores critical thinking about design in a range of areas of life and its complexities. It started July 14 and continues for 3-4 weeks. The recorded presentations and subsequent discussion are taking place on google+. See for other options for participation and links to more details about the course. An overview of the course is below. Read more of this post


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