Critical thinking about critical thinking

More vindication of classical education, which cultivates knowledge (grammar) AND understanding (logic) AND application (rhetoric).  As opposed to various contemporary methods which, for reasons I cannot understand, fixate on only one of these dimensions of education and denigrate the others.   This article discusses the fad of   critical thinking, including the admission that educators cannot even define it!  The various approaches are incoherent,with  the most obnoxious version being “just question everything.”  More substantive scholars say that being able to think critically requires (again, see below) CONTENT.  You have to think ABOUT SOMETHING.  Whereas much of the critical thinking curriculum is all process, trying to provoke content-free thinking.   (The classical solution:  DIALECTIC, featuring questions AND answers, as in that great model of classical education, the catechism, which, properly used, helps the student answer the question, “what does this mean?”)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Steven

    According to good cognitive psychology, one of the major differences (perhaps the biggest difference) between students who understand (ie – can think critically about) a text and those who do not understand is simply background knowledge. In other words, content comes first.
    It has been dubbed the Matthew problem, because when a student has knowledge (facts, content, etc) they gain from everything that they read. When they lack knowledge, everything mystifies them, and they fall further and further behind.

  • Steven

    According to good cognitive psychology, one of the major differences (perhaps the biggest difference) between students who understand (ie – can think critically about) a text and those who do not understand is simply background knowledge. In other words, content comes first.
    It has been dubbed the Matthew problem, because when a student has knowledge (facts, content, etc) they gain from everything that they read. When they lack knowledge, everything mystifies them, and they fall further and further behind.

  • http://www.meanderinglutheran.blogspot.com Ryan Oakes

    Sadly it is the obnoxious definition of Critical Thinking that is probably most promoted. Our culture loves the idea that in order to ‘think’ one must question everything. What is not taught, as the article suggests, is the content. Should I question Physics when I don’t even know anything about Physics? All to often, what is replaced as ‘content’ is the person’s own personal opinion that has no foundation on the topic. I see this all the time at Adult Bible Studies. Verses taken out of context with the response “Well, this is what I think it means…” Our children are being taught that a Critical Thinking individual is one who uses their own opinion to interpret the world.

  • http://www.meanderinglutheran.blogspot.com Ryan Oakes

    Sadly it is the obnoxious definition of Critical Thinking that is probably most promoted. Our culture loves the idea that in order to ‘think’ one must question everything. What is not taught, as the article suggests, is the content. Should I question Physics when I don’t even know anything about Physics? All to often, what is replaced as ‘content’ is the person’s own personal opinion that has no foundation on the topic. I see this all the time at Adult Bible Studies. Verses taken out of context with the response “Well, this is what I think it means…” Our children are being taught that a Critical Thinking individual is one who uses their own opinion to interpret the world.

  • http://kingdomready.org/blog JohnO

    “All to often, what is replaced as ‘content’ is the person’s own personal opinion that has no foundation on the topic.”

    I suggest that this is exactly true because they have no other content besides what is in their own skulls :) And I agree it happens in Biblical Studies all the time. If you’re at all interested, you can see the blog I’m a part of where we destroy that notion.

  • http://kingdomready.org/blog JohnO

    “All to often, what is replaced as ‘content’ is the person’s own personal opinion that has no foundation on the topic.”

    I suggest that this is exactly true because they have no other content besides what is in their own skulls :) And I agree it happens in Biblical Studies all the time. If you’re at all interested, you can see the blog I’m a part of where we destroy that notion.

  • fw

    we Lutherans it appears have lots we could contribute to education at large. I am so glad you are championing all of this Dr Veith.

  • fw

    we Lutherans it appears have lots we could contribute to education at large. I am so glad you are championing all of this Dr Veith.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    John O, where is this elusive blog?

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    John O, where is this elusive blog?

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  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I think that most people think “critical thinking” is thinking really, really hard.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I think that most people think “critical thinking” is thinking really, really hard.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    To find John O’s blog, just click on his name or go here:http://www.kingdomready.org/blog/

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    To find John O’s blog, just click on his name or go here:http://www.kingdomready.org/blog/

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    FYI, Kingdom Ready makes some statements about the Trinity that don’t appear to match what I was taught.

    Source: http://kingdomready.org/blog/2008/01/15/debating-the-trinity/

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    FYI, Kingdom Ready makes some statements about the Trinity that don’t appear to match what I was taught.

    Source: http://kingdomready.org/blog/2008/01/15/debating-the-trinity/

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    Thanks, Theresa, for pointing out that there are some representations at Kingdom Ready that are clearly anti-Trinitarian. “I believe Jesus is God in a secondary sense” is a good starter. Just FYI.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    Thanks, Theresa, for pointing out that there are some representations at Kingdom Ready that are clearly anti-Trinitarian. “I believe Jesus is God in a secondary sense” is a good starter. Just FYI.

  • Bror Erickson

    how to teach critical thinking? Maybe a course in Plato and Aristotle?

  • Bror Erickson

    how to teach critical thinking? Maybe a course in Plato and Aristotle?

  • Booklover

    “much of the critical thinking curriculum is all process, trying to provoke content-free thinking”

    which reminds me of the latest theology fad. Many of our “converts” are accepting Jesus (process) without knowing who he is (content) or what he has saved us from (more content).

  • Booklover

    “much of the critical thinking curriculum is all process, trying to provoke content-free thinking”

    which reminds me of the latest theology fad. Many of our “converts” are accepting Jesus (process) without knowing who he is (content) or what he has saved us from (more content).

  • http://www.aaronscrucible.blogspot.com Aaron Snell

    I rarely use the term “critical thinking” anymore, for the same reasons many of you posted. Instead I use “careful thinking” – it implies that there are rules, details are important, and knowledge, rather than a skeptical abandon of such, is possible. This is also one of the prime reasons I am teaching my children using the Classical method.

  • http://www.aaronscrucible.blogspot.com Aaron Snell

    I rarely use the term “critical thinking” anymore, for the same reasons many of you posted. Instead I use “careful thinking” – it implies that there are rules, details are important, and knowledge, rather than a skeptical abandon of such, is possible. This is also one of the prime reasons I am teaching my children using the Classical method.


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