Almost all my thinking on education owes a huge debt to Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. If you ever read anything on education, read him. Most of the following is shamelessly glommed from Freire.
Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man… It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.
— Paulo Freire
As one teacher put it to me: Thinking is an action. Critical thinking is a subversive action. For all aspiring lovers of knowledge, thoughts are the laboratory where one poses questions in the search for answers; it is the intersection where visionary thinking and theory and external action meet. For me education is about freedom, it is the practice of freedom. At the very core of critical thinking lies the longing to know — to understand how life works. Children are naturally predisposed to be critical thinkers. Children arrive into the world of wonder and language literally consumed with the thirst for knowledge. As any parent can attest, sometimes they are so eager for knowledge that they become relentless — demanding to know the who, what, when, where, and why of life. In their search for answers, they learn almost instinctively how to think.
It’s unfortunate that this natural passion for thinking is often stifled by a world that often confuses education for conformity and obedience. Too often, children are conditioned early on to perceive thinking as dangerous. Tragically, these children cease enjoying the process of thinking and learn instead to fear and loathe the thinking mind. Whether in homes that teach by way of punishment that to obey is more valuable than self-awareness, or in schools where independent thinking is deemed as unacceptable behavior, most of our children are forced to suppress the memory of thinking as a passionate and pleasurable activity.
By the time children pass into adolescence and adulthood, they have come to dread thinking. Those who have escaped the dread of thinking will instead fall prey to the assumption that thinking will not be necessary; that all is needed is to retain information and to regurgitate it at the appropriate moments. Those that enter higher education similarly find themselves confronted by a world where independent thinking isn’t encouraged. Fortunately, there are some classrooms in which individual professors work to educate as a practice of freedom. In these settings, thinking, and more importantly, critical thinking, is what matters.
While thinking is natural (organic), critical thinking isn’t and students do not become critical thinkers through osmosis. First, they must embrace and experience the joy and power of thinking itself. Critical pedagogy (pedagogy being the science of education) is a teaching strategy whose aims are to restore or empower students’ will to think and to become fully self-actualized. Educate comes from the Latin root, educare, which means to bring forth. Hence, the main focus of critical pedagogy is to empower students to realize what the capacities they already have.
This is an essential point when teaching critical thinking. For me, critical thinking is the ability to see both sides of an issue, of being open to new evidence that challenges previously held notions, of being able to reason and to demand that claims be backed by evidence, and being able to deduce and to infer conclusions from available facts, solving problems, etc.
Simply put, critical thinking involves first discovering the who, what, where, when, and how of things and then using that knowledge in a way that empowers one to make the determination of what matters most. This ability to establish what is important is essential to the practice of critical thinking. Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with the aim to improve it.
Most of all, critical thinking is an interactive process demanding participation from all involved. Critical thinking is a way of approaching ideas that aims to understand essential, sometimes hidden truths and not simply the obvious and superficial. Most people will resist critical thinking. After all, they’ve been taught to be more comfortable with passive learning. But it is this demand for initiative that critical thinking calls for that’s most exciting. It invites students and teachers alike to think passionately and to share ideas in a passionate and open manner. When all stakeholders realize that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful. In such a setting, everyone leaves knowing that critical thinking empowers all of us.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…