Licensed to be critical

‘Critical thinking’ – now here’s a phrase that is widely used in job adverts, school portfolios, reports and academic literature to name but a few. It is especially used within the wider spectrum of ‘thinking skills’. Critical thinking is highly valued in the generic sense of the word and rightly so, it is an integral component of our ability to think effectively. However, I feel it should be used with care, genuine sincerity and above all appropriately. Adopting critical thinking comes with a responsibility that should not be disregarded or taken lightly. SAPERE’s conceptual framework for a community of enquiry consists of the 4 c’s, these are categorised as: caring, collaborative, critical and creative modes of thinking. Within this framework the critical lens is only one of four that can be applied to aid the development of the enquiry. This was bought to the forefront of my mind this week as I witnessed Dr Ben Lukey use the philosophers toolkit with a range of classes at Waimanalo Elementary and intermediate School (WEIS).  Although I had seen the toolkit in action on my previous visit, there were noticeable differences in the way it was being accessed in the classroom. Dr Ben Lukey started each session by presenting the initials for each tool and the pupils would recap what each initial represented and how it could be used in an enquiry to improve the breadth and depth of enquiry:

R – What are the reasons for…?

T – Is it always/sometimes or never true?

A – Can I assume that…?

W – What do you mean by…?

E – What are some examples of…?

C – Are there any counter examples to the idea or claim that…?

I – Can I infer that…?

The explicit methodology deployed to teach young children how to use these tools encouraged them to apply collaborative, caring, critical and creative modes of thinking in a highly sophisticated manner. Although the specific vocabulary itself differs there is a shared understanding of the importance of all these facets of thinking because it is only then that we can create rich, stimulating and safe school environments for these students to truly flourish. This practice reaffirmed my staunch belief that through programs such as P4C we can mediate change on a whole school level and beyond by focusing on the culture of a school. If critical thinking was the only type of thinking we applied it would have a catastrophic impact on human society and civilisation as we know it. So yes, critical thinking is important but we must teach our students to use it with caution and responsibility.

Later on in the week Dr Ben Lukey and I were discussing the wider issues associated to critical thinking specifically in the domain of system leadership and accountability. It bought up many questions about the association between critical thinking and school improvement: do advisors and specialists feel they have to be critical in order to help the school move forward? Is this the same as genuine comments for improvement or does it frame the need to be critical in order to be effective? does an over emphasis on critical thinking lead some individuals to seek out problems/issues in schools? does this lead to fair and honest judgment or is it seen to be a prerequisite for working effectively in school improvement in any capacity: inspection, advisory or consultancy?

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