Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man… It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.
— Paulo Freire
Thinking is an action. Critical thinking is a subversive action.
For all aspiring intellectuals (lovers of knowledge), thoughts are the laboratory where one poses questions in the search for answers; it is the crucible where visionary thinking and theory and external action meet. For me education is about freedom, it is the practice of freedom. At the very core of critical thinking lies the longing to know — to understand how life works. Children are naturally predisposed to be critical thinkers. Children arrive into the world of wonder and language literally consumed with the thirst for knowledge. As any parent can attest, sometimes they are so eager for knowledge that they become relentless — demanding to know the who, what, when, where, and why of life. In their search for answers, they learn almost instinctively how to think.
It’s unfortunate that this passion for thinking is often stifled by a world that often confuses conformity and obedience for education. Too often, children are conditioned early on to perceive thinking as dangerous. Tragically, these children cease enjoying the process of thinking and learn instead to fear and loathe the thinking mind. Whether in homes that teach by way of punishment that to obey is more valuable than self-awareness, or in schools where independent thinking is not acceptable behavior, most of our children are forced to suppress the memory of thinking as a passionate and pleasurable activity.
By the time children pass into adolescence and adulthood, they have come to dread thinking. Those who have escaped the dread of thinking will instead fall prey to the assumption that thinking will not be necessary; that all is needed is to retain information and to regurgitate it at the appropriate moments. Those that enter higher education similarly find themselves confronted by a world where independent thinking isn’t encouraged. Fortunately, there are some classrooms in which individual professors work to educate as a practice of freedom. In these settings, thinking, and more importantly, critical thinking, is what matters.
While thinking is natural (organic), critical thinking isn’t and students do not become critical thinkers through osmosis. First, they must embrace and experience the joy and power of thinking itself. Critical pedagogy (pedagogy being the science of education) is a teaching strategy whose aims are to restore or empower students’ will to think and to become fully self-actualized. The main focus of critical pedagogy is to enable students to think critically. From my perspective, critical thinking is the ability to see both sides of an issue, of being open to new evidence that challenges previously held notions, of being able to reason and to demand that claims be backed by evidence, and being able to deduce and to infer conclusions from available facts, solving problems, etc.
Simply put, critical thinking involves first discovering the who, what, where, when, and how of things and then using that knowledge in a way that empowers you to make the determination of what matters most. This ability to establish what is important is essential to the practice of critical thinking. Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with the aim to improve it.
Most of all, critical thinking is an interactive process demanding participation from all involved. Critical thinking is a way of approaching ideas that aims to understand essential, sometimes hidden truths and not simply the obvious and superficial. Most participants will resist critical thinking. After all, they’ve been taught to be more comfortable with passive learning. But it is this demand for initiative that critical thinking calls for that’s most exciting. It invites students to think keenly and to share ideas in a passionate and open manner. When everyone involved realize that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful. In such a setting, everyone leaves knowing that critical thinking empowers all of us.
I think James Baldwin put it best when he wrote:
The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it — no matter what the risk.
My Name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization