The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
Edited by Daniel Schugurensky
This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.
By Shenaz Damji, Mary Dell'Anno, Mary McGrath and Joanna Warden (OISE/UT)
a Definition of Critical Thinking: A Historical Perspective
Although the principles of Critical Thinking underpin much of Western
Philosophy, it did not come to the fore as a specific concept until the late
Nineteenth Century. Philosophical
discussion of critical inquiry surfaced in the 1870's in the United States, when
Charles Sanders Peirce,
who believed that logic is the scientific method that will lead us to truth,
originated the concept of pragmatism. Pragmatism stresses the relation of theory
to practice (or what Paulo
Freire called ‘praxis,’ meaning reflection and action upon the world
in order to change it).
social emphasis grew in the hands of George
Herbert Mead, and became important to John Dewey, who argued for a model of critical thinking based on
a theory of knowing that is continuous. He adopted Peirce’s notion of
meaning, and focused on the connection that thinking has with experience, doing,
and the consequences of action. Dewey
subscribed to the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and described his
approach to inquiry as “reflective thinking,” to distinguish it from
the 1930s and 1940s, the Antigonish Movement launched discussion of critical
thinking in Canada. During the same period, Edward
Glaser wrote An Experiment in the
Development of Critical thinking (1941) and developed the Watson-Glaser
Critical Thinking Test (1940), which is credited by Richard
Paul for stirring renewed interest in critical thinking in the U.S.
however, credits the renewed interest in critical thinking to Robert
Ennis’ article “A
Concept of Critical Thinking”, published in 1962. Ennis,
who developed Cornell Critical Thinking
Tests, defined critical thinking as “reasonable reflective thinking that
is focused on deciding what to do or believe.” He pointed to issues of
evaluating critical thinking skills, through the development of critical
thinking tests, and issues concerning the instruction of critical thinking.
who had developed a Philosophy for
Children program in the late 1960s, criticized Ennis’ definition of
critical thinking as focused on the outcomes rather than its essential
characteristics. Lipman defined critical thinking as “skilful, responsible
thinking that facilitates good judgement because it (1) relies upon criteria,
(2) is self-correcting, and (3) is sensitive to context.”
devised the concept of ‘weak sense’ and ‘strong sense’ critical thinking
to signify quality and depth of thinking. Paul pointed out the need for a
critical thinker to have a certain disposition and character traits; he helps us
see the role of self in critical thinking. Paul’s definition of
critical thinking includes aspects of Ennis,
McPeck, Lipman, Glaser
and Black, as well as aspects of critical thinking that have not
been included before.
John McPeck, a Canadian
philosopher following in the steps of Max
Black, published in 1981 a text entitled Critical
Thinking and Education. For McPeck, critical thinking is a subset of
rational thinking, and rational thinking is “the intelligent use of all
available evidence for the solution of some problem.” His approach set up a
debate between theorists such as Robert
Ennis and Richard Paul, who argued that critical thinking is a general
skill, not necessarily subject-specific. Harvey
Seigel (1988) in Educating Reason,
argued that the two schools of thought (McPeck and Ennis/Paul)
were correct, because critical thinking was both a general and specific skill. Seigel, who placed an
emphasis on principles, argued that the two dimensions of critical thinking are
the ‘reason assessment’ and the ‘critical spirit’ components. More than
knowing how to assess reasons, a person must also be disposed to do so; and more
than having critical thinking skills, a person must use them. Like Ennis
is concerned that the character of a person may interfere with the execution of
(1970) concept of critical thinking contrasts with that of most North American
philosophers. Freire’s conscientisation (which can be translated as
“critical unerstanding of reality”) shares with Ennis, McPeck, Siegel, Paul,
and Lipman the belief that critical thinking should be taught through dialogue,
and that critical thinkers must think for themselves to arrive at Truth.
However, Freire’s concept is historical. He points out two distinct layers of
critical thought: respectful dialogue between participants in the learning
process, and ‘structural perception’ (understanding the oppressive social
system). Paul’s ‘strong sense’ critical thinking tries to address exactly
what Freire addresses. However, while Paul begins with an assumption that human
nature is egocentric, Freire assumes that people become the way they are through
a transaction between themselves and their environment.
Most recently, Barbara
J. Thayer-Bacon (2000), has added a
gender analysis to critical thinking. Using an analogy of a quilting bee,
she maintains that the disagreements between Ennis, Paul,Siegel, and McPeck help
point to what distinguishes constructive thinking theory from critical thinking
theory. Unlike these theorists, she attempts to avoid seeing critical thinkers
as ‘individual, disembodied minds,’ and instead envisions a community of
thinkers (quilters) using tools to critique our information (pins and scissors),
and intuition (needle and thread) to put our ideas (the fabric) together, using
imagination to decide the pattern.
it into Context --The Principles of Critical Thinking
assess the value of critical thinking in adult education it is useful to compare
the fundamental principles of critical thinking with those of the dominant
philosophies of adult learning. When
we juxtapose the methods and objectives of critical thinking with those of the
community movement, self-directed learning, and transformative learning, we find
some points of conflict but many moments of convergence. On the whole, then, we
can say that critical thinking is consistent with the values of adult education,
with one small caveat.
A convenient starting point in our investigation was the website of
Walker Teaching Resource Centre at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (http://www.utc.edu/Teaching-Resource-Centre/critical.html).
On this site, critical thinking is conceptualized as “a process which
involves analyzing assumptions and being aware of one’s own thinking”;
the thinker then “use[s] this awareness to correct what [he or she] is
doing.” In general terms,
critical thinking is a discipline which favours reason over emotion.
Critical thinkers acquire portable skills which can be applied to other
tasks at a later date. The site
also discusses several classroom techniques, many of which feature cooperative
or group learning. Equipped with
this information, we undertook the task of comparing these precepts with those
outlined in several chapters of one of the readings that we used in the course
Outline of Adult Education, namely the book Learning
for Life: Canadian Readings in Adult Education, edited by Scott, Spencer and
The community adult education movement, as exemplified by the Antigonish
Movement, used small group practical education to improve skills and raise
consciousness. Critical thinking can be seen as useful in two ways. First, the
villagers of Antigonish were hidebound by their unthinking allegiance to the big
bosses and the corporate structure. Critical thinking would have taught them to
imagine a different situation. Furthermore, the Antigonish movement sought to
educate its members so that they would be able to continue learning outside the
educational structure; critical thinking also attempts to teach strategies which
the learner can adapt to use beyond the formal learning situation. Finally, the
Antigonish form of education, the use of small cooperative groups is a technique
employed frequently by Critical Thinking educators (Cooper 1995).
Self-directed Learning has many forms and interpretations, but if we see
it in terms of P.C. Candy’s objective of self-management we can observe that
critical thinking can help to achieve this goal. Just as in the Antigonish
Movement, critical thinking can be used to change the student’s learning,
qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Thus, by acquiring the tools of
critical thinking, the student gains the ability to set his or her own
educational agenda, thereby developing educational autonomy. On the other hand,
the development of critical thinking still requires an instructor to be in the
classroom, although his or her role is less autocratic than that of a
traditional teacher. This would
clash with the most radical forms of Self-Directed Learning, which see the
learner as truly independent of education workers.
Transformative Learning requires structural change, a re-evaluation of
learning, a vision of the future, and a grounding in conflict theory. Critical
Thinking definitely encourages students to question their received knowledge.
It often works according to a Conflict Theory model, when learners
experience a situation which defies their expectations and are forced to modify
their unspoken assumptions. While Critical Thinking does not explicitly require
structural change, or a renewed future vision, these two objectives are
eminently possible in a Critical Thinking situation.
One small concern arises when we compare Critical Thinking to established
Adult Education Practices. In her chapter in the book, Dorothy MacKeracher
writes of how senior learners fare less well in exercises grounded in cognitive
learning, and better in those which work more on the affective and
impressionistic level. This may also be true of other learner groups, especially
those who are already vulnerable in some respect. Critical Thinking privileges
analytical thinking, and many of its proponents reject work that is based on
subjectivity or personal impressions. In
such situations, the educator would have to use sensitivity and discretion when
working with Critical Thinking models.
The Benefits of Critical Thinking
Life poses a variety of problems that individuals must solve
independently. Critical thinking
skills are nothing more than problem solving skills that result in reliable
knowledge. Humans constantly process information. Critical thinking can be
understood as the practice of processing this information in the most skillful,
accurate, and rigorous manner possible, in such a way that it leads to the most
reliable, logical, and trustworthy conclusions, based upon which one can make
responsible decisions about one's life, behavior, and actions with full
knowledge of the consequences and
underlying assumptions of those decisions.
value of critical thinking to individuals at least four dimensions:
making: A realization that our
lives are shaped by global as well as local political, psychological,
social, economic, environmental, and physical forces.
comes from interaction with cultures, languages, ethnic groups, religions,
nationalities, and social classes other than our own.
of our humane sensibilities: reflecting on recurring questions about human
existence, love, life, and death
appraisal: of the human condition
value of critical thinking to society is twofold:
protection from political exploitation:
an electorate that considers the pros and cons of issues; judges and
juries that do not let their biases govern their decisions.
protection from economic exploitation: people who are able to analyze and
interpret market trends, evaluate the implications of interest fluctuations, and
explain the potential impact of those factors which influence large scale
production and distribution of goods and services
to Use it -- Critical Thinking Tools
A search on the Internet under ‘critical thinking tools’ resulted in
752 sites. Generally the sites fall into two categories: strategies for
teachers, and guides for adult learners. Three authors whose names appear
frequently and whose works are located in the OISE/UT Library are Stephen
Brookfield, Richard Paul, and Marilyn Cairns. All three authors clearly envision
a need for the redesigning of the way teachers model their lessons. In Paul's
view, "a paradigm shift from a didactic to a critical model of education to
make higher order thinking a classroom reality" is necessary. (Paul, 1990,
Richard Paul in Critical Thinking: What Every
Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World, argues that
students learn best in dialogical and dialectical situations and advises
educators to use the following strategies (Paul 1990:245).
Recognizing bias (in media)
Reasoning 'empathetically ' or within the perspective of others
a subsequent chapter, Paul recommends that the critical thinking educator focus
on the higher order sections of Bloom's Taxonomy: Analysis, Synthesis and
Evaluation (Paul 1009:423). Finally, in Chapter 21, Paul outlines 35 Dimensions
of Critical Thinking. Here he not
only lists these strategies, but also indicates how each of these critical
thinking principles can be specifically applied as a teaching strategy.
Stephen Brookfield, in Developing Critical Thinking, targets the adult learner and asserts that there are two central activities involved in critical thinking. The first consists of helping people analyze and challenge the assumptions under which they, and others, are thinking and acting. The other is exploring and imagining alternatives to their current ways of thinking and acting. (Brookfield, 1988, p. 69). Brookfield also describes the ideal critical thinking environment for adults as one where six conditions are present:
and divergence would be encouraged;
of format and direction would be welcomed;
taking and spontaneity would be valued;
would model openness and critical analysis;
would be no presumption of perfection on the part of the facilitator;
there would be skepticism of final answers. (1990, p. 71).
Marilyn Cairns, in a text suggestively entitled Which Should I Teach: Critical Thinking or the Facts? Can I do Both?”,
offers the critical thinking educator some useful questions to ask
herself when designing instruction for students. In effect, she is telling
educators to apply the strategies of critical thinking to their own practice.
Stephen D. (1988) Developing Critical Thinking. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Cairns, Marilyn A. Which Should I Teach: Critical Thinking or the Facts? Can I do Both? http://www.cast.uark.edu/local/tatew/CriticalThinking.html.
Paulo. Education for Critical Consciousness. Seabury Press,
New York, 1973.
Richard. (1990) Critical Thinking: What Every
Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly
Changing World. Binker,
A.J.A. (Ed.). Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA.
Barbara J. Transforming Critical Thinking: Thinking Constructively.
Teachers College Press, New York, 2000.
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