Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Abuse of Critical Thinking

I sincerely believe that schools have a responsibility to teach and encourage critical thinking... except, we do so badly at it ourselves. Critical thinking seems to take so much abuse as to make you wonder how our kids think at all.

One of my big agnostic rants is how I think religion interferes with education. If all of your life you've been told that the events and lessons in a book are absolute and you shouldn't question them, then:
  1. Can you really understand it? You aren't allowed to question (and in terms of Christianity, this removes one of the best things of the religion - the fact that it's the same events through different eyes. It's a religion based on perspective. It really shouldn't be seen as absolute).
  2. How does this effect your thinking for everything else? Does everything else have to then be looked at in relation to that book?
But it's more than that. Over the past few years I've noticed a worrying brand loyalty. If it's  got an Apple logo or a Google logo, you'll find there are teachers everywhere stating that it is the future of teaching. Not of learning - of teaching. It's an interesting statement. What this says to me is that teacher's are feeling horribly uncertain. They want to be part of the "big shift". BUT for the most part, they aren't looking at the pedagogy. How does the device help with teaching?

Perhaps I'm missing something. Perhaps the shift they're looking for is one that even they don't understand yet. Learning isn't just learning. Show someone 20 years older than me something on the computer and they'll take notes whereas for me it just annoys me. Read the screen, make connections. So those teachers may be right. Except.... that they aren't showing critical thinking...

Yep, critical thinking gets another punch in the face.

Why do we Google for something rather than search for it? Why do we Skype people rather than video chat with them? Why do we Photoshop (a horrendously expensive and specialized package) something rather than touch it up? It turns out even TXT is a brand name (Vodaphone popularized the term. Everywhere else you SMS someone). Putting together a Word document rather than... putting together a document.

Why is this a punch in the face for critical thinking? How much harder is it for other similar products to get a look in? Do people bother to evaluate the alternatives?

Take Skype for example. People still talk about Skyping someone and it's opened up communication channels with people everywhere. Does anyone talk about Google's quite similar offering? Google Hangouts generally have better functionality than Skype (built around the idea of conference calls), doesn't require anything but your browser and is more likely to lead to incidental contact (thought I'd pop by seeing as I was in the area).

It's the same with Photoshop. We talk about photoshopping something but for the most part, us mere mortals can't afford that much on a piece of software, so either the software is pirated (and really, this should be discouraged), or we use something else (in which case, it's no longer "photoshopped").

How many products end up failing because we're all locked into a particular vendor rather than evaluating our options? What are we missing out on and how far could technology have gone if the popular products were the ones with the innovative technology rather than the recognisable logo?

More importantly, if this is how things are done at school i.e. one brand to rule them all!, what are we teaching kids?

I say this while I'm trying to figure out the alternative to Ubuntu. I've used Ubuntu for years but am now finding myself uncomfortable going past 12.04 - due to the default inclusion of amazon search tools and the like.They've been including more and more crapware as well - Ubuntu One, Landscape (most users will have absolutely no need for it), the horribly bloated software centre etc. The interface designers who aren't at all happy to listen to the users... It's all leading me to look away from Ubuntu and look at the alternatives.

No comments:

Post a Comment