- Copyright - Chris Storer
DE ANZA COURSE SCHEDULE DESCRIPTION
"The function of formal and informal logic , argument, critical evaluation, and use of language in interpretation of diverse forms of discourse."
A BRIEF HISTORY
In many respects, Critical Thinking is one of the oldest disciplines, with a history reaching back at least as far as the Greek, Socrates, and his fellow Sophists in the 5th century BCE. However, in an equally important respect, it is a very young discipline that has developed in its current form during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Socrates was famous with his contemporaries for his ability to show people how little they really understood even though they believed they knew much with certainty. He was reportedly told by the Delphic Oracle that he was the wisest of Greeks which led him to conclude that his wisdom lay only in the fact that he recognized that he truly knew almost nothing. In seeking to confirm claims of knowledge, Socrates found that asking questions of others and listening carefully to their answers, entering into an honest dialogue, helped all discover the vague and superficial generalities that clouded the human mind, leading to error and confusion. Thus was born the process of critical thought that still bears his name, the "Socratic Method."
In the centuries that followed, the Socratic Method came to be seen as a necessary foundation for higher education, but as human knowledge has grown, it has become more and more the case that the pressure to learn facts has dominated the disciplines while the foundation of critical questioning and analysis has been assumed. Students without this foundation tended to be shoved aside by poor grades.
In the mid twentieth century, a number of circumstances faced educators and forced them to begin rethinking these matters. I believe the major forces that precipitated a movement to focus on critical thinking pedagogy included:
1. The increasing need for highly educated specialists in an increasingly complex and competitive world.
2. The GI Bill brought a sudden influx of new adult learners into US institutions of higher education; students often lacking in foundation skills because of weak educational backgrounds and lives interrupted by war.
3. The civil rights movement forced new level of concern over the democratization of our educational institutions, not just to provide access, but access to programs that would lead to educational success.
4. The integrated common core general-education requirements seemed to be failing. Students saw GE as a waste of time, keeping them from moving forward in their areas of major interest. Faculty were ill prepared and often more interested in their discipline specialization than the broad ranging interdisciplinary questions of the core curriculum. Since students did not want it, and faculty did not want to teach it, the integrated GE core was quickly reduced or replaced by a selection of stand alone introductory courses.
However, it was in just such integrated general education programs that students with weak educational foundations could begin to develop the missing analytical skills in reading, writing and thinking. With more and more students failing, both in number and percentage, both our values of education and our social needs for education were clearly threatened.
A few educators had foreseen the problem, even as early as the late nineteenth century, but institutional leaders were not ready to focus resources on it until a generation of the new students had passed through their doors, and often out the back door with little success. California higher education led the way to change.
In 1960, California completed its ambitious "Master Plan for Higher Education" [NB - 10MB Download], a determination to democratize and integrate public higher education to an extent never before attempted. While access was guaranteed, educators found student success impossible to universalize. Many of the new students were unprepared for the rigors of higher education and increasingly more resources were poured into remedial efforts. By the last quarter of the twentieth century the California State University system and the California Community colleges had implemented plans for near universal education in Critical Thinking.
The most recent formulation of these regulations are in the California State University Executive order 595 which says in part:
"Instruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief. The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the demonstration of skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought, and the ability to distinguish matters of fact from issues of judgment or opinion."
- Copyright - Chris Storer