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ERIC Number: EJ1076839
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 7
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0160-7561
The Case against "Critical Thinking Skills": In Pursuit of a Humanizing Pedagogy
Anderson, Morgan
Philosophical Studies in Education, v46 p83-89 2015
Current educational discourse is rife with the phrase "critical thinking skills." The term is wielded with such indiscretion among educators, reformers, and education policy makers that is has become commonsensical to believe that imparting critical thinking skills is an indispensable aspect of education. For example, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, one of the primary goals of the core standards is "developing critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful." In this article, the author asks have current conceptions of "critical thinking skills" coupled with repeated attempts to reduce learning to a set of transferable skills impacted the teaching and learning process? More specifically, how might the rise of the era of Common Core Learning Standards and its conception of "critical thinking skills," or lack thereof, contribute to creating learning environments that are antithetical to critical thinking? Interestingly, despite an increasing focus on the fostering of critical thinking skills, a close reading of the Common Core State Standards for "English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects," Grades K-12, reveals that nowhere in the sixty-six page document do the literacy standards define or address what "critical thinking" is, or what a "skill" is. Perhaps this should not be surprising, as those such as Deron Boyles have illustrated that the term "skill," through its unrelenting use as a qualifier for nearly every human activity (e.g. "reading skills," "writing skills," "interpersonal communication skills," and lately, "critical thinking skills"), has become completely devoid of meaning. The author argues that this trend--a myopic focus on allegedly measurable skill sets--is symptomatic of the larger educational climate that Dewey would critique as a misguided "quest for certainty." Rather than engaging with and embracing the messiness and uncertainty that is characteristic of human growth and inquiry, current proponents of reforms such as the Common Core would have us believe that it is possible--and desirable--to reduce complex human activities to a tidy set of definable and measurable skills. As Dewey observed, "in the absence of actual certainty in the midst of a precarious and hazardous world, men cultivated all sorts of things that would give them the feeling of certainty." The worry is that the Common Core's treatment of "critical thinking" as reducible to a set of transferable skills is merely providing us a "feeling" of certainty--in Dewey's sense--and in fact precluding serious engagement with the process of cultivating critical students and citizens. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is twofold. First, through a close reading of the standards, the author seeks to critique the Common Core on its own terms by arguing that the failure to define terms such as "critical thinking" and "skills" reveals a deeper conceptual problem with the standards themselves. Namely, it underscores the inevitability of arriving at superficial, vague outcomes when we attempt to reduce complex endeavors to discrete, measurable outcomes. The author will then argue instead for a reconsideration of our understanding of "critical thinking" that promotes a humanizing pedagogy and embraces the decidedly untidy nature of teaching and learning, instead of one that assumes that students are receptacles for teachers to equip with mere "skills."
Ohio Valley Philosophy of Education Society. Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A