DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is critical thinking a social construct?

Written by: on November 2, 2017

Paul and Elder are so passionate (and confident) about their guide for critical thinking skills, they encourage students to “get in the habit of carrying it (A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking) with you to every class”.[1]  The guide is sponsored by the Critical Thinking Foundation which is a “non-profit organization that seeks to promote essential change in education and society through the cultivation of fairminded critical thinking–thinking which embodies intellectual empathy, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual integrity, and intellectual responsibility.”[2]  Two very practical pieces of information in this guide are the template for problem solving and the guidance for analyzing and assessing research.

The most profound section in the guide, however, is Paul and Elder’s section on “Envisioning Critical Societies”.  Having just completed the compilation of resources and the review of them (research topic refugee resettlement in the U.S.) for an annotated bibliography, I’m struck by how much of a critical thinking deficit we (citizens of the U.S.) have in attitudes and behaviors around the refugee population.  For example, Paul and Elder discuss the following key attitudes/behaviors as essential in a critical society:

  • closed mindedness is systemically discouraged and open-mindedness is systemically encouraged;
  • social values must include intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, confidence in reason, and intellectual courage;
  • children are taught that rights and needs of others are equal to their own; and
  • a multi-cultural world view is fostered.[3]

Essentially, “if we want critical societies we must create them”.[4]  To be clear, critical societies are not racist, sexist, or homophobic.  Critical societies are multi-cultural, open-minded, expert problem solvers.  If we are such good critical thinkers in the United States (and I believe the U.S. believes they are), why have we allowed the advocacy, acceptance, and perpetuation of attitudes of prejudice and discrimination towards refugees (and many other races, ethnicities, and cultures)?  How can “we” reverse the trajectory of close-mindedness and recognize the value of diversity?  As a country that was formed by immigrants and refugees, it’s time to denounce egocentric and sociocentric thinking and expect higher leveling thinking behavior.

Howard Doughty, author of a Review Essay on The Limits of Critical Thinking, is a bit critical of Paul and Elder’s system of critical thinking,

“Official critical thinking, in this framework, merely amounts to a short-hand and rather nebulous version of inductive reasoning. Its only firm point is that no factors (especially those related to power relations among thinkers, and between thinkers and the rest of society) are permitted to intrude into the grammar of inquiry. Their advice is purely formal and procedural. It is a restatement of the scientific method in a manner intended to be applicable to non-scientific problems and accessible in various versions to pupils in grade five and to people pursuing a Ph.D. As a prescription that is supposed to apply to “all thinking,” it is intended to relate equally to moral, aesthetic and interpersonal as well as commercial, botanical and, of course, educational issues. It singularly fails to do so in the former cases, because it is incapable of rendering normative judgments in strictly empirical terms. It is a one-size-fits-all guide to thinking, and it simply doesn’t fit.”[5]

Doughty brings up a fascinating point in his review which discusses the power differential.  He believes that critical thinking is just “another form of ideological thinking” with its own set of contradictions.  Essentially Doughty does not believe that Paul and Elder’s universal template will work without consideration of the social context – specifically power relations among thinkers, between thinkers and the rest of society.[6]  And he may be right… critical thinking and decision making hinges on how those in control choose to interpret and implement socially acceptable decisions.

 Doughty’s review makes me question if critical thinking is just a social construct.  Social construct, according to dictionary.com is “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’ through cultural or social practice”.  Just like the United States creates acceptable social rules and expectations for refugees, stakeholders in power have been creating acceptable social rules for all of us (the choice to accept, fund, and enforce decisions made by critical thinkers who must stay in the social zone for “our” everyday lives) since the inception of this country.

Our challenge as researchers, Christians, and socially conscious individuals is to examine our ability to engage in critical thinking at home, at work, and at school.  It’s crucial to question our own socialization and how it impacts our thinking and interpretation of family, community, church, work, and educational policies, interactions, and decisions.  After all, it would be an injustice to walk away from reading Paul and Edler’s A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking without further questioning!  Happy thinking!

 

[1]        Paul, Richard & Linda Elder (2014). A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, Concepts and Tools. 7th ed. Thinkers Guide Library.

[2] http://www.criticalthinking.org//

[3] Paul, Richard & Linda Elder, A Miniature Guide, 2014

[4] Paul, Richard & Linda Elder, A Miniature Guide, 2014loc287

[5]        Doughy, Howard A., “Review Essay, The Limits of Critical Thinking”. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, Volume 11(3), 2006, article 11.

[6] Doughy, Howard A.  Review Essay, 2006

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

11 responses to “Is critical thinking a social construct?”

  1. Excellent post as always Jean! I think your highlighting of the concept of critical societies was powerful and I agree the U.S. has a big black eye in this area. I also second your statement…”How can “we” reverse the trajectory of close-mindedness and recognize the value of diversity? As a country that was formed by immigrants and refugees, it’s time to denounce egocentric and sociocentric thinking and expect higher leveling thinking behavior.” I’m curious if you have any ideas of how to create change in this area, I know this has challenged me to do the same.

  2. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hi Jean- I love how you applied your critical thinking and the critical thinking of others to this very book about critical thinking! Your post challenged me to think more critically about the book. I was just in a conversation two days ago with a black friend who does racial justice work for Seattle Pacific University, and we were talking about how the push for “civility” in public discourse is often another form of white supremacy that keeps whites in power. I wonder about this, though I am undecided. If one is truly being “intellectually honest” than the power differential has to be named in the conversation. If it’s not named, it’s not intellectually honest. But if it is named, then change can happen. I don’t know. But this line in your post was gold: “As a country that was formed by immigrants and refugees, it’s time to denounce egocentric and sociocentric thinking and expect higher leveling thinking behavior.” It is amazing (not in a good way) how human beings revert back to tribalisms in the face of the other. This happens not only to me but even to the most educated people in my congregation. We’ve got to grow out of this as a nation, but the one in office is the worst neanderthal of us all.

  3. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hi Jean,
    I chuckled at the way you began your post. It almost seemed like you were saying there was an inverse-fight-club way of thinking. “The first rule of critical thinking is you always talk about critical thinking!” As you point out, they encourage people to bring this booklet into every situation… My prayer for US/Americans is that we will apply critical thinking skills to our refugee policy and to how we relate to people who come to our country in this way. I see you working, lady!

  4. Greg says:

    I too was encouraged to take a more critical look at this book. I find it interesting that through the weeks many of us have used the same reviews and critiques yet found many uses and sometime interpretations to these reviews. I suppose that is our own agendas getting in the way of thinking through a problem. Not being in the states nor hearing about the refugee crisis as often and those in the states, I struggle with the limited viewpoint that I have; as if from the outside looking in. I would love to have an honest conversation with those that oppose refugees immigrating to discover, not what the media claims they feel, but hear their concerns. We live in a world that loves to label people as racist, sexist and homophobic. I do wonder if those label help or hinder open conversations that could bring clarity? I don’t know the answers or if there is even a willingness for those in opposite camps to engage with the desire to understand. Obviously your blog got me thinking (or rambling) and I appreciate you willingly engaging this hot topic.

  5. mm M Webb says:

    Jean,

    Great questioning and analysis of “critical societies.” Going right to the point, after traveling for 36 hours back to the US, I woke up to write you this. Without the influence of Satan, I would say there is a much greater chance to “reverse the trajectory of close-mindedness.” However, all my preliminary research and experience in the problem of spiritual warfare suggests otherwise. I would propose that close-mindedness is closely linked to spiritual blindness where the people in question are deceived by supernatural agendas that will never line up with recognizing the value of diversity. I’m not suggesting that we should not try to reverse the trajectory, but do encourage spiritually opened minds to understand the global battlefield and eyes to see the unseen enemy that must be overcome before your thesis can be achieved. By no means do I recommend trying to avoid all the research, critical analysis, and bibliographic review that must be accomplished on this journey. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend the use of your weapons of warfare, not of this world, but the divine weapons of truth, love, righteousness, faith, and prayer. (1)

    Bravo for pulling in Doughty’s criticism on Elder/Paul’s “universal template” towards critical thinking. I agree with much of their criticism, yet still personally like checklist aids that help me standardize my review process. I put this in a comment to Dan’s post: checklists cannot be created for every conceivable situation and are not intended to preclude good judgment. And I might add for you, the author’s universal template does not account for good discernment, but I think can be adapted for spiritual problem solving anyway.

    In closing, excellent connection with your research problem about the existing “negative attitudes” toward Somalian refugees in Columbus, Ohio.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

    2 Cor. 10:4 NIV, How to demolish strongholds.

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, powerful post. You brought up an interesting situation though; how do you think we should use critical thinking as minsters when what may be acceptable in our culture and our country, may not be acceptable in God’s church?

  7. Very interesting post, Jean. Thank you.

    I am struck by the distinction between closed and open-mindedness, and how that would operate within a community of Christians. We say we want to be open-minded and non-exclusionary, but our doctrines (eg. on hell, on salvation) push us to create a divide between us and them. Maybe our doctrines and hermeneutics need revisiting?

    This weekend I attended the gathering for Atlantic Canada Vineyard church leaders here in St Stephen NB. Peter Fitch, my friend and the local pastor and host, gave a talk on what he has coined “Non-Exclusive Christianity”. It recognizes and celebrates Jesus Christ as the way, but offers that He is at work in all faiths to bring people into their fulness as children of God. It is at peace with the ambiguity this presents.

    I was struck by the intellectual humility of his position and of his person. He says, “I may be wrong, but I believe…”

  8. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jean,
    Your discussion of Doughty’s prompting of social constructs was interesting. I would not be surprised to see the social constructs within many different countries would be seen as closed minded as well. I do believe we in the U.S. do have a major problem with this but it is not relegated just to the U.S. I believe we saw some of the same issues while we were in South Africa as well. The idea of our own ideologies pushing what we desire is counter to what we as Christians are called to as well don’t you think?

  9. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    I have to be honest here. In your good writing, I found myself being a little discouraged about the “social constructs” you describe. For instance, higher education (of which of course you are a part of). My frustration with higher education is that they place such a high value on critical thinking that they always ask more and more questions almost as a smokescreen. I have seen people not want to answer difficult questions so to throw others off, they just ask a bunch of questions without ever solving anything.

    This is why I appreciated you including folks who did not agree wholeheartedly with this week’s authors. Well done and thanks for doing that!

  10. JAY FORSETH says:

    Very interesting post, Jean. Thank you.

    I am struck by the distinction between closed and open-mindedness, and how that would operate within a community of Christians. We say we want to be open-minded and non-exclusionary, but our doctrines (eg. on hell, on salvation) push us to create a divide between us and them. Maybe our doctrines and hermeneutics need revisiting?

    This weekend I attended the gathering for Atlantic Canada Vineyard church leaders here in St Stephen NB. Peter Fitch, my friend and the local pastor and host, gave a talk on what he has coined “Non-Exclusive Christianity”. It recognizes and celebrates Jesus Christ as the way, but offers that He is at work in all faiths to bring people into their fulness as children of God. It is at peace with the ambiguity this presents.

    I was struck by the intellectual humility of his position and of his person. He says, “I may be wrong, but I believe…” i love this idea

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