The Thinking Behind Critical Thinking Courses

Jay Matthews:

Looking for a way to improve your mind and make some money? Check out the latest “critical thinking” courses. Many come up on a Google search. Many promise better grades and higher test scores. Without much effort, you can create your own course and tap into this hot topic.
The only thing is, it turns out such programs don’t work very well, except as a measure of the gullibility of even smart educators. A remarkable article by Daniel T. Willingham, the University of Virginia cognitive scientist outlines the reasons. Critical thinking, he explains in a summer 2007 American Educator article, overlooked until now by me, is not a skill like riding a bike or diagramming a sentence that, once learned, can be applied in many situations.
Instead, as your most-hated high school teacher often told you, you have to buckle down and learn the content of a subject–facts, concepts and trends–before the maxims of critical thinking taught in these feverishly-marketed courses will do you much good.

2 thoughts on “The Thinking Behind Critical Thinking Courses”

  1. So, what does this tell us as far as IB’s much hyped claim that it teaches critical thinking??

  2. “Willingham’s own work is, in my view, a triumph of critical thinking because he knows his content so well. His new book is full of surprises. Did you know, for instance, that the mind is not designed for thinking? His analysis should be a lesson for both the young and us not-so-young. We need to do our homework and remember that no matter how brilliant we think we are, we can be useful critics only after we master the facts.”
    The above is the last paragraph of the Jay Matthews’ article, and his criticism is an echo of Willingham’s work. I’ll have to check on Matthews’ gullibility as he buys into “[d]id you know … that the mind is not designed for thinking” line.
    Now, I don’t whether this comment will make me read Willingham’s new book, or keep it far away from other books to avoid infection.

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