Alternative to critical thinking education

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Sat, 04/24/2010 8:50 AM | Opinion A | A | A |


Education today is facing a great challenge to empower young generation against rampant social ailments in the country.

Political figures, academicians and government officials, who are supposedly to be an ideal model to be emulated by the public, are now on the recurrent media spotlights, facing allegations of various cases such as corruption, money laundering, bribery, case brokerage, sexual molestation, plagiarism and physical violence.

With the public’s easy access to both electronic and print media, media coverage of these legal cases has significant deleterious impacts, particularly on our younger generations. It is not impossible that they see depraved conducts committed by public figures as accepted norms in day-to-day life.  

Education, without doubt, plays a vital role in shaping the thinking (either in a positive or negative way) of our young generations through what they witness everyday in media reports.

The question, however, remains as to what kind of education model is well-suited to our society. Critical thinking education (CTE) has always been continuously promoted here as the best model that can empower school students to be independent, critical beings.

School teachers have desperately tried to apply this model by designing activities aiming to inculcate students with traits such as inquisitiveness, broad-mindedness and ethno-relativism, all of which are perceived as the main characteristics of critical thinkers.

While there is nothing harmful with the endeavor to promote CTE here, such an educational model will have little to no, effect on the students.

Apart from potential cultural barriers, the application of CTE is incongruous to our local education. There are several reasons for this.

 CTE, by its very nature, leads only to rational thinking rather than to social change. It encourages students to master reasoning strategies such as analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and refuting.

As such, it is mentalistic in its approach to see a phenomenon. Furthermore, it assumes that rational thinking is universal or transcendental, and thus can be applied equally well everywhere regardless of one’s cultural backgrounds.

Also, CTE sees things in an objective way without considering the potential biases of the students. Finally, it is detached from the consideration of social values to which the students are bound.

An alternative to CTE is critical practice education (CPE), which emanates from the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy.

Different from CTE, CPE views thinking as a process of student’s practical struggle for social change or social transformation. It is therefore socially shaped by the students’ daily experience.

It also assumes that students’ everyday interaction with the society can help generate critical insights. CPE thus views that the property of being critical is inherent in humans, and as such there is no need to teach critical thinking.

Its socially-grounded nature makes CPE validate the ethical considerations like justice, fairness, egalitarianism and inclusiveness.

As the social change becomes the ultimate goal, CEP, to borrow Sri Lankan sociolinguist Suresh Canagarajah’s phrase, “resists the glorification of detached rational thinking”.

Without disparaging the values of CTE, CPE seems more congenial in our context, at least at the present time.

To raise students’ awareness of the harmful consequences of the social “diseases” (e.g., chronic corrupt mentality of our people) they witness almost every day takes more efforts on the part of the teacher than simply exhorts them to think rationally about the issue via reasoning strategies.

While CTE views that a problem in social life can be solved by linear lines of reasoning, CPE demands that students engage in the conflict and contradiction they are encountering in social reality. Through this engagement, they can reflect on and interrogate thinking from their own perspectives.

They can also show their oppositional stances against what they experience in life, but should be poised to conduct self-criticism. It is through all of these critical insights can be generated and nurtured.

The shift of the perspective from CTE and CPE benefits both students and teachers in that they will eventually be cognizant that critical thinking is not an exclusive property of a certain community or a group of people.

Instead, it is constantly constructed as knowledge is interrogated and contested by an individual person, and it is also socially shaped by his or her social positioning.    

Apart from potential cultural barriers, the application of CTE is incongruous to our local education.

The writer is associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of
Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

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