Critical Thinking = Disagreeing?

I ran a discussion on Thursday on the analysis of an article by an art historian. I wanted them to critically asses the article. It’s a pretty good article, with an interesting thesis. They all disagreed with it.

That is fine.

But it got me wondering. Do students equate critical thinking with disagreeing with a thesis? Do they think that if you agree with it, you are not thinking critically about it?

Any thoughts about this out there in McDaniel Faculty Land?


4 Responses to Critical Thinking = Disagreeing?

  1. I think that is a fairly common misunderstanding amongst undergraduates, not just McDaniel students. Part of the problem is simply linguistic: ‘critical thinking’ = ‘criticism’. And just like studio art or creative writing teachers can tell us, undergrads often need significant work developing the skills of taking and giving meaningful criticism.
    I’m not sure entirely how to fix this other than merely modeling the desired behavior in our own presentation of materials – esp. those we’re sympathetic with. But I don’t know if any of it is getting through, esp. when students are culturally primed to see everything as an instance of ‘bias’, rather than an reasoned position.

  2. Bob Trader says:

    Part of the problem is that people tend to view life as some kind of a magic formula. If one plugs in the right pieces, then the desired outcome emerges. Look at all the “how to” books out there telling people how to be successful, win friends, and build a better mousetrap. Systems theory uses the term equifinality to define that there are multiple means to an end (“more than one way to skin a cat”). Some means are longer, shorter, cheaper, and so on, and we can discuss this. But, ultimately all of them take us to a similar place. And even more exciting, some of them may take us to a place we’ve never been before.

  3. Deb Vance says:

    I’m always having students look for underlying assumptions and beliefs upon which the thesis builds, and usually I ask them to consider the question through one or another theoretical frame. Given certain assumptions, the thesis might be fine, but looked at another way you can detect flaws. So, while there may be more than one way to skin a cat and you’re discussing the best way to do it, still I wouldn’t want you killing my pet, and would question whether you should be skinning your own pet (even though I’m allergic to cats).

  4. gretchenmckay says:

    Well, I’m trying a conversation today about “what is critical thinking to you” as they go through the *facts* of an article, about which they will have a critical analysis due on Thursday. We’ll see if this helps any.

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