Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stephen J. Harris on the vapidity of "critical thinking"

"In most management contexts, product, rather than process, is the first measure of value. A risk in courting product over process in education is that one confuses education with vocational training. In humanities quantitatively, susceptible administrators unsurprisingly tend to value courses thought to forge demonstrable habits of mind. These habits are thus distinguished from course content and from discipline-specific methodology. Few will fail to recognize here what has become the least common denominator of pedagogy, critical thinking, the shibboleth of academic mission statements. It seems to mean the ability to reason and an awareness of one's own guiding principles and assumptions....As an academic high-water mark, 'critical thinking' severely underestimates students and demeans (by overgeneralizing) the benefits of an education in medieval history or literature. After all, the details of medieval history and literature are superfluous to this vague if ubiquitous goal. If you can learn critical thinking in a hotel management course, why study Old English?" - Stephen J. Harris, "Introduction," page 12 in Misconceptions About the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2008).