A Critique of Critical Thinking

I am on the road so this will be brief, but I encourage everyone to take a look at this article in the Chronicle (it appears to be freely available and not behind a pay wall) by Michael Roth, “Beyond Critical Thinking.” He points out that while developing in ourselves and our students critical thinking skills (something we do actively and explicitly in our Presidential Leadership Academy) we are in danger of developing students who are able to critique but not construct meaning.

The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not completely without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers or, to use a currently fashionable word on campuses, people who like to “trouble” ideas. In overdeveloping the capacity to show how texts, institutions, or people fail to accomplish what they set out to do, we may be depriving students of the capacity to learn as much as possible from what they study.

I don’t think we are in danger of that, but it is a good reminder and a helpful critique in itself. As someone in the humanities I particularly appreciated the call to those in our disciplines to be more constructive in educational roles.

If we humanities professors saw ourselves more often as explorers of the normative than as critics of normativity, we would have a better chance to reconnect our intellectual work to broader currents in public culture.

It is an excellent read, please take the time to do so.

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