Please tell me I’m wrong; where are my mistakes? Be critical; that’s how I learn…

A colleague of mine recently remarked that my blog was too negative; that it belabored the facts; and I was missing the main point of social media – sharing!

I countered by saying, I try to share as much as I can; some of my posts are sharing resources that I created, and I re-tweet points, arguments and resources that I think should be considered or have value.

In regards to belaboring the facts, I responded that I had no idea what that actually means.  Relevant facts are always…well, relevant! They, when applied correctly, are argument busters – they help you gage if an idea had merit or not. Value facts; they keep us grounded in reality.

In terms of being too negative I saw his point; taken as a whole, my blog and tweets are more disagreeable then many others.  I saw his point, but I emphatically disagree.  This is what critical thinking looks like.  Critical thinking is the analysis of where a concept is weak or wrong; it is an exploration of negative consequences, oversights, weaknesses, errors, assumptions, etc.  

There might be some misunderstanding out there on what critical thinking is. You aren’t thinking critically when you point out the benefit of something or when you are optimistic.  Those are other analytical strategies.  Critical thinking is the subset of analytic activities that attack – its the reductio ad absurdum and the like. It is the process used in systems analysis (from everything to computer programs to making sure the maintenance schedule for aircraft repair is adequate); it is the process used by your defense lawyer as he breaks down the Crown’s argument; it is the method of Socrates – he never said, “wow, I see your point; I can’t wait to share it with the Sophists.”

We hear people presenting the merits of critical thinking a lot; they present the need that our students have for them; however, we rarely hear anyone embracing someone else’s critical thoughts. It’s much like coffee – when asked, people generally say they like it dark and rich when the truth is the majority of us like it milky and weak (Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti sauce at ted.com). When asked, people generally say that they value critical thinking, then when confronted by it, see it as negativity and then as something to avoid or dismiss (“you say you love the baby, but you crucify the man (Jim Croce).”). Though people say they value critical thinking; they don’t embrace the actual thoughts only the vague unassuming concept. As a profession, we tend to see it as the “black hat” from de Bono’s 6 hats…something associated with negativity. Even in many sources of this method, we are warned to not use it too much.

No such warning exists for the optimistic hat. Well, I don’t want my airplane mechanic to be overly optimistic; I don’t want my lawyer to be (should I need one); I don’t want journalists to be; or farmers (“don’t worry; crops grow themselves; don’t worry, I’m sure the ecoli wont spread”) or educators.

I find the irony a bit too thick to even enjoy when an educator shares someone’s critical argument at face value…when anyone optimistically accepts a critical argument and shares it saying, “great point to consider…” they have missed something fundamental; they have forgotten to be critical. I also have very little respect for someone who prefers to ignore an argument because it is too negative and goes off in search of some great list of 100 apps that every student needs or 100 uses for twitter in your classroom. Without seeking the possible weakness or negative consequences, one’s optimism is reckless and naive.

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  1. #1 by Malyn Mawby (@malynmawby) on September 19, 2011 - 6:12 am

    Interesting post.

    Critical thinking is certainly important but I don’t think it’s necessarily negative. I agree that it entails zooming in, dissecting, zooming out, looking from different perspectives. I agree, too, that many feel being subject to critical thinking unnerving. This is important. Even when you are being objective or that you mean well, it is easy for others to perceive you as having a go (attacking, in other words). Constructive feedback can be perceived as criticism.

    I used to think that critical thinking is playing devil’s advocate. Unfortunately, it can be counter-productive when the other becomes defensive or worse, refuse to continue with the conversation. No one wins.

    This doesn’t mean dropping critical thinking. It just means establishing a connection – I hear you – before presenting my perspective/s – now please, hear me. And I think that’s the purpose of social media, i.e. not just to share but to connect.

    Also, I think that critical thinking should be augmented by creative thinking. What’s the point of pulling apart something if you can’t put it back together and preferably in a better state than when you started? I also think that creative thinking without critical thinking misses the point.

    Here’s an old post of mine on how to teach critical and creative thinking. It might provide a better context as to where I’m coming from as well.

    Good luck in your critical thinking journey.

  2. #2 by Patrick Tucker on September 19, 2011 - 7:22 am

    Great response/addition; thanks! Thanks as well for the link to your earlier post…I look forward to reading it

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