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Rapping on Critical Thinking

Yvonne Bobb-Smith • 02 July 2005 • 1,222 words

I just want to share some bits and pieces that might explain why I am teaching Critical Thinking as a practice; also, to briefly show how I see its role and relations with Humanism. I recognize there are critical thinkers in the room, and I depend on you to fill the blanks of my omissions with questions, and help me to get rid of my cold feet!

Critical Thinking (CT) is an intellectual discipline that engages us in habits of thinking beyond how we feel to thinking very profoundly. It engages us in the use of many skills from reading and listening to analytical, conceptual, logic etc. in addition, it requires us include other modes of thinking—mathematical, scientific, postmodern—when dealing with social issues. CT also engages our skills, to gather, sort, classify and evaluate information, with as much pertinence and relevance as we can to deal with the issue or topic on hand.

CT is a practice that has to be learned. I provide four significant out of many steps:

  1. to open ourselves to CT we need to first deal with our subjectivities, that is, to examine the roots of our own thinking. An inventory of our behaviours, will clear the way to indulge in critical thinking practices. What makes us think the way we do? Why do we depend on poor habits that generate our thinking with stereotypes, generalizations, and assumptions? How can we clear our minds of these obstacles? Next,

  2. to read intensely, observing carefully the facts, the arguments etc., which are there to convince of a theory, or a belief and so on. Then,

  3. to develop investigative skills to ask appropriate questions. Finally,

  4. to develop skills to make sound decisions, and to create justified solutions to problems.

CT thinking uses some postmodern mode of thinking, one is, to value those links we can make to the past. In this way, it shares a relationship with Humanism, that is, it analyzes the distinctions human activities have made to perpetuate human survival. What activities bear relevance to the present: what worked, and who caused them to work? CT embraces diversity of race, class, age, disability, and gender as prominent categories of today. These categories give positions to human beings who have lived experiences in diverse contexts. In this regard, Humanists, when practicing CT, need to pay attention to the high levels of privilege and priority given to a “male” view of the world as opposed to any other category. In my view, Humanism needs to uphold a principle of inclusivity. CT can help as a means through which we can maintain our views and perspectives of the world that emphasize human growth in a balanced manner. For critical, as well as humanistic, thinking is a process of analyzing, conceptualizing thoughts, ideas, and evidence in a scientific manner to bring validity to truths out there. CT in a postmodern mode would make us as humanists skeptical of grand narratives, authoritative extremes that have final solutions.

CT makes us conscious about language use. Briefly, postmodernists argue that language shapes our reality. Thus in analyzing and examining as a practice to have reasoned convictions and beliefs, we may find that terms and words reflect some human experience in a prejudiced and biased way. Through proper rational examination of evidence, we can reject words that do not express correctly the specific experience. We can establish the inhumanity that comes with politically constructed designations of people. What comes to my mind, for instance, is the use of the word “slave” in the twenty-first century. History gives us sufficient scientific proof of the capture, sale and brutality of many African human beings for three centuries in the Caribbean and North America. Thus, colonials enslaved African people: Africans had no choice. . Referring to Africans of that time by the word “slave” shows uncritical thinking. In other words, we have not deconstructed the history that produced that word. We seem to ignore the reference made to that designation-- “slave” defined as the stupid, ignorant, happy person—and we appear to diminish the horrid acts of the “master”. Abolitionists at that time were Humanists, (if I can categorize them thus) who were conscious of human injustices as well as human rights. The African became free in the past. The present has to acknowledge his humanity in an appropriate manner to redefine him as first nationals, having understood that these were lives inflicted with the worst form of capitalism. In my humble view, the changed reference, “the enslaved”, is justified.

Intellectuals consider Critical Thinking as a philosophy or a way of life. Thus it enables us to look at “experience” both subjectively and objectively. CT is scientific in its approach to evidence, and finds truths in the analysis, synthesis and evaluation of arguments. CT practitioners recognize very well that speculations, gossip, and their variations lead to inhuman actions and add up to uncritical thinking. CT is related to Humanism because its focus on analytical thinking links the reality of the world with the subjects of the world. While some (male mostly) intellectuals who use CT may regard qualitative thinking as uncritical, I do not. As Edward Said (1993), eminent Middle-East-American scholar, argues we need to tell our stories. I say we can measure or quantify story lines.. We can find statistical measurements to the concepts of experiences in stories; however, doing this uncovers another set of problems! For where do we place mystical thinking? I would imagine, as Humanists-Critical Thinkers we need not answer immediately, but address this issue with a great deal of homework from every one of us!!

In closing, I would like to say that CT is neither idealistic nor romantic thinking. It involves a number of skills: scientific, pragmatic, skeptical, logical, creative and reflective to name but a few to engender reasonable and productive ways of thinking. Ccurrently educators and employers have found that many students and graduates do not display adequately that have learned to think either critically or creatively. Research studies how that instruction in the use of critical thinking enhances academic achievement. Therefore, educators are making serious attempts to place the teaching of as a full course or an elective in some curricular.

However, CT is hard to teach, I say with a lot of empathy. We live in an instant world! For 5 years, I made CT a classroom activity that I enjoyed. while the activity caused some students to perk, some frowned, groaned, etc. However, I later heard from some students the benefits they derived from learning CT, both in their personal lives and their careers. I always caution them, though, that we retain CT skills with practice. On the other hand, I have experienced on an everyday basis a great lack of logical thinking that I wonder! I am not advocating that people become robots and go through the CT process for every decision they have to make, or for every truth they have to believe or confirm. Yet, I am convinced, however, that critical thinkers live their lives as critical thinkers, with levels of consciousness to meander their thinking between wishful or intuitive thinking and empirical and pragmatic thinking, at least, some of the time!!

I rest my case—thank you!

Yvonne Bobb-Smith, PhD
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago



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