If there is anything in education on which everyone agrees, it’s the vital importance of “critical thinking,” writes Alexander Nazaryan in Newsweek. However, before students can think, they need to learn. Call it “uncritical thinking,” the “unquestioning reception and retention of facts.”
In pure lexical terms, “critical thinking” is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Translated into pedagogy, it’s teaching students to be intellectual mavericks, cognitive cowboys who poke bullet holes into every received concept, who duel with Aristotle and Dickinson, who are never complacent, submissive or even quiet. They brim with what Walt Whitman called “original energy.”
. . . Uncritical thinking is pretty unsexy, often requiring rote memorization, deadening repetition and, not infrequently, humility before intellects greater than your own (whether Louise Erdrich’s or Albert Einstein’s or just Mr. Greenberg’s during third-period geometry class). Only someone who has uncritically mastered the intricacies of Shakespeare’s verse, the social subtexts of Elizabethan society and the historical background of Hamlet is going to have any original or even interesting thoughts about the play. Everything else is just uninformed opinion lacking intellectual valence.
In any discipline, whether trigonometry, biology or Spanish literature, “There is a lot more to absorb than to critique,” writes Nazaryan.