Thinking critically about critical thinking

Those who know me know that I haven’t bothered to waste my time reading a newspaper in years… I waste my time on the Internet instead.  Fortunately for me though, some of my time is spent reflecting about how I can help Jamaica to claw its way back to ascendancy in the region.  I say fortunately because it was while I was in this mood one afternoon that I read some writings by Professor Stephen Brookfield about critical thinking.

My most overwhelming insight into myself from reading some of Professor Brookfield’s reflections about critical thinking is the degree to which I have been committed to the concept of critical thinking as a “product”.  This contrasts with Professor Brookfield’s analysis of critical thinking in terms of “process” and “purpose”. (Galbraith, 2004)  The irony of it all is that in offering my thoughts I find myself falling into the trap against which Professor Brookfield cautions – believing him to be the authority on all things about critical thinking and, therefore, not challenging my now-embarrassing-to-think-that-I-ever-might-have-even-vaguely-once-held-these assumptions that a man knows it all because he has a Ph.D. and because his writings appear in an edited publication.  Worse though, is that I was also about to surrender, without even token resistance, but with typical arrogance, to my hegemonic assumptions that advancing the practice of critical thinking is the way to go for my beautiful little Jamaica.

As things stand, I will concede to Professor Brookfield’s expertise only because I realise that I do not know enough about the topic to challenge any of his arguments.  Further, I have been an advocate of the need for a more critical approach to our version of island-living even before knowing about him and his views.  I can accept the idea that not only do his two threads of thought intertwine (Galbraith, 2004) but perhaps our three do.  I accept that without a process, my product would not have existed and without a purpose, my product is meaningless.

What has given me pause though is Professor Brookfield’s discussion about the process of engaging adults in a critical questioning of their guiding assumptions.  He suggests that this is a painful process, both intrinsically for the learner and externally in respect of the possible repercussions with his associates (Galbraith, 2004).  My sad reflection there is that although I may wish my fellow Jamaicans to think critically so that we may begin to realise the potential for phenomenal creativity and productivity that I believe we have, I am not sure that we are prepared for the added experiential pain that may come with this birthing process.

Professor Brookfield’s article is a prescriptive one, and extremely useful in this regard; but I feel that I must read some more to learn how to prepare myself, and my future students, God help them, for the process of thinking critically.  The chapter has added kindle to the spark of interest that emerged when I first thought that what Jamaicans needed was to think – I meant think critically – about the political situation pervading our nation.  I will re-read this article critically and adopt (and adapt) the techniques suggested in it in the development of my shiny, new HR course on Thinking… Of course, you all need to hold me to this or it will never get done…

Nantsew ye…

Note: If you’re interested in reading the original article by Professor Brookfield please see: Galbraith, M.W. Ed. (2004). Adult Learning Methods: A guide for effective instruction.  Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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