I teach critical thinking at a public university. This blog is in no small part a reflection of that experience. My students tend to mimic the habits of mind they see in the rest of us. Even when I teach critical thinking as a series of questions that highlight the credibility of particular claims about our lives, my students are rarely respectful toward questions. Even when the textbook is called Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, my students insist on using those questions to vault them quickly toward answers. They are willing to ask a couple questions if that is the game I wish them to play. But as rapidly as they can, their critical thinking efforts take a recognizable form. They use the questions to arrive at answers. They warm quickly to the task of explaining how the writer or speaker has things wrong or alternatively is providing gems of expertise.
In class they watch with seeming amusement as I get excited when they ask questions about the ambiguity of key terms in one of my assignments or the assumptions in a persuasive essay. Yet, my encouragement and transparent reinforcement schemes rarely break their pattern of answer worship.
But why do I expect a different result? We have been taught to display answers proudly and to cling to them as if they are central to our identity. I am a veteran of decades of academic seminars where again and again, questions are less an expression of curiosity than a blatant effort to establish who in the room is brandishing the sharpest sword. Alas, I’m sure many of my own questions fit smoothly into that same ugly scenario.
How grandiose of me to think that I could in a brief interlude between answer quests successfully encourage in students a widespread immersion in the delight and fecundity of systematic question asking!
For anyone interested in a more standard bio, my CV can be downloaded here. In addition to critical thinking, I teach courses in Economics, Law, and Great Ideas. My books, consulting and professional articles are in those same arenas.
If you would like to contact me, please use the following form: