Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

Quick Post: Is ‘critical thinking’ in education ideologically neutral?

Road to 2015: Sturt 12
Road to 2015: Sturt 12 (Photo credit: Make Poverty History Australia)

Short answer: nothing is ideologically neutral.  Why do we still need to debate this?  Why do we never learn?  Why do we continue to have people who think their ‘facts’ aren’t somehow expressed in language?  That last one is the weirdest.

This morning, I had a person inform me that teachers should only teach ‘facts’.  One wonders — indeed, marvels — at the idea that a teacher could do this without using language.  The moment you use language, you import all the cultural assumptions and ideological underpinnings that go along with it.  Is in an abattoir or a slaughterhouse?

The announcement by the Abbott Government to review the content of the National Curriculum has caused the usual outpouring of angst from Twitter’s Outraged Left.  Two conservatives — shock and horror — are going to review the content of the National Curriculum.  Clearly this means that children will no longer be taught maths and science, or critical thinking and independent thought.  Clearly.  Conservatives, you see, are all about indoctrination and ideology.

Or something.

The boldest claim is that teaching ‘critical thinking’ is ideologically neutral, and it’s easy to see why the claim is false.  New Atheists, for example, declare unabashedly (and perhaps not incorrectly) that they hold critical thinking to be a core component of their identity.  Within that view of critical thinking, some arguments are admissible (those which are based on empirically verifiable evidence) and other arguments are not admissible (those which are not).  Outside of the ‘critical thinking’ bubble, positivism is incoherent.  More importantly, we can identify the way in which this ‘critical thinking’ shuts down questions about the way the evidence is presented in language and, thus, excludes non-privileged perspectives.

With this one example, we can show that ‘critical thinking’ is going to be a contested term.  To different groups, it’s going to mean different things.  Look at the way ‘critical thinking’ broadly means different things between the two main branches of philosophy.  In Analytic Philosophy, critical thinking is about clarity of expression.  In Continental Philosophy, critical thinking is about analysis of language as experienced.  Which is the ‘right’ critical thinking?

The biggest lie of all is the idea that we want students who ‘think for themselves’.  We never think for ourselves.  We use language and concepts borrowed and stolen from generations of our predecessors.  These ideas think for us.

It is disappointing to see, yet again, the Left advocate that their view is somehow prelinguistically default rational.  This tool of analysing the power structures behind assumptions in political argument is a creation of the Left.  You guys should be expert at using it.  For some reason, both sides of the political divide seem to have fallen into the ‘Ideology is something that happens to other people’ vortex.

In truth, everybody wants an ideologically-informed curriculum for students and not least because an ideologically-neutral curriculum is impossible.  Most of us want particular views of equality to be taught, of human rights, of religious tolerance, of democratic conviction.  These aren’t ideologically-neutral; they’re ideologically important to most of us.

This brings us back around to what’s really going on in the review of the National Curriculum: content.

The review is not about removing critical thinking and independent thought from education.  It’s about asking whether or not the subject material provides students with exposure to desirable content.  To say that we shouldn’t be debating that point is weird and abandons the task of determining the education content to the lotus-eaters in university education departments.


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2 responses to “Quick Post: Is ‘critical thinking’ in education ideologically neutral?”

  1. The biggest issue I see with the review of the National Curriculum is that one of the criticisms of the history curriculum is that ANZAC Day doesn’t have the focus it once had (World War 1 and 2 are now taught, in the NSW version, as a combined topic).

    This seems to me that it would lead us back to the nationalistic, even jingoistic, portrayal of Anzac Day as a “character building” day in history…and leaving no room for debate of the “Anzac myth” or explaining how it was a monumental SNAFU which didn’t get close to achieving its objectives. When the most successful part of your campaign is the retreat….

    That revisitation and possible change not to the ideas behind the curriculum, but nitpicking over its content as being “too Left” (or even “not enough Left”, which might be where the argument is in 2 and a bit years) is the biggest problem I see with this review.

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