You Don’t Own Critical Thinking

“I don’t want people to say, “something is true because Tyson says it is true.” That’s not critical thinking.”
Neil Degrasse Tyson

The Pink Panther movies are ridiculously hilarious. I’m not talking about the Steve Martin films but the original Peter Sellers movies. One of the great stories in these movies is the interactions between Peter Sellers Inspector Jacques Clouseau and Herbert lams Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus. Their interactions are funnier because Clouseau doesn’t understand how much Dreyfus hates him.

“Dreyfus: The beggar was the lookout man for the gang.
Clouseau: That is impossible. How can a blind man be a lookout?
Dreyfus: [Insinuating Clouseau] How can an idiot be a police officer?
Clouseau: Well, all he has to do is enlist…
Dreyfus: Shut up!”
The Return of the Pink Panther – 1975

Over the course of several films, the interactions with inspector Clouseau slowly drives Dreyfus insane. A twitch in his eye foreshadows his descent into madness.

Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus Eye Twitch The Return of the Pink Panther 1975
Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus Eye Twitch The Return of the Pink Panther 1975

Lately, the term critical thinking is starting to do drive me a little crazy. It seems once, or twice a week I see or read another article bemoaning the loss of some form of education, liberal arts, social sciences, arts, or a type of degree english, history, foreign language, etc. Many of these articles suggest that without the their “stick” we will lose critical thinking. There was an article the other day that argued we should be getting degrees in the humanities and the reason, in the humanities we learn to communicate (speak), to work in teams, and here my eye twitch twitch critical thinking.

In another article, they argued why it was wrong to pursue degrees in computer science and programming and instead we should be getting degrees in the social sciences because they learn communication skills, problem-solving a couple of other things and twitch twitch critical thinking.

In a third article, the argument was to learn emotional intelligence and big data analysis we needed social sciences and anthropology. Furthermore, these skills in emotional intelligence and big data were needed to learn twitch twitch ” And then… I will kill you! Kill you!” (Charles Dreyfus The Pink Panther Strikes Again 1976) critical thinking.

Article after article all seeming to claim that without their field we will lose critical thinking. The idea that critical thinking is dependent on any one field is frankly ridiculous. The truth of the matter is that any field and any education can teach critical thinking.

Learning to design and write computer software is an enterprise in critical thinking pick up a book on program architecture. Learning to write a story especially something like a novel (creative writing degree) requires critical thinking. Learning to design research experiments in any of the science fields is the definition of critical thinking. Constructing logical arguments, supporting or contradicting a point in philosophy is critical making.

I could continue with examples in fields of study until I ran out of fields because like I said no single field or type of study owns critical thinking. Arguing that your field is needed for critical thinking probably does more harm than good by alienating everyone else that you just said couldn’t teach critical thinking.

While we all (hopefully) agree that critical thinking is important and the stories of schools cutting critical thinking are quite troubling, we should be all working together to make sure critical thinking is supported and taught regardless of what the student studies.

As to arguments concerning declining enrollments in many fields and types of education the solution is not to try to lay claim to things that belong to everyone. You’re also not going to solve the problem by trying to force an individual into programs with claims of fundamental importance if it isn’t true. Even if it’s true, the real problem is the students are not engaging or interacting the same way as they were before.

If we want to reverse these trends, we need to figure out why the students are not interested. Then engage the students, the argument that I’m a professor, and I understand all this information, and you should believe me isn’t going to work. To get the students into the classroom, we need to answer their questions and concerns honestly, and directly. We need to remember that their concerns while different than ours, are completely legitimate to the students and treating them any other way than respectfully will not help the situation.

Academics have a huge amount of knowledge and skill. However, we need to remember that outside our fields and academia your audiences have probably not read that paper that “everyone” knows. Take some time and instead of saying “like we all know” spend some time explaining the information, after all, if you want more students the people you need to convince probably don’t know what you know.
Thanks for Listening to My Musings

The Teaching Cyborg

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