Helping youths to develop their critical faculties
October 16, 2003
‘FOR apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, men cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.’
--‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ by Paulo Freire
QUITE a few readers must have recalled Brazilian social scientist Paulo Freire earlier this week, while reading an article titled ‘Rethinking thinking’ in last Monday’s Christian Science Monitor newspaper. A summary of the article written by Mark Clayton reads thus: “College classes that make one think - it’s a basic concept assumed as a given. But many grads walk away with a diploma yet still lack critical-thinking skills. That’s why some educators are asking students to close their textbooks and do a little more reflecting.”
Paulo Freire, whose seminal work, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, was first published in the early 1970s, deplores what he terms, the “banking concept” of education, which assumes that all children know nothing and during the learning process they are “filled” by their teachers, who are knowledgeable. This approach, which assumes that children never educate their teachers, Freire notes, is in fact an important tool of manipulation and control by oppressive systems. He posits: “It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them.”
It is a sad commentary on the state of the human condition, when persons, whether young or old, undergo the process of acquiring one academic qualification or another with the sole objective of landing a well-paying job. During their tenures as students, such persons read and review only those texts and publications that are required. In many cases, when the necessary reading concerns only one chapter in a tome, they focus on that said chapter and demonstrate no sense of curiosity about the theme or main premise of the book. While we know that it is well nigh impossible for a university student to read, absorb and internalise the messages, themes or theories in every recommended text, something is very much amiss with the student, whose only concern is the offering in the chapter or page of a particular tome. By so limiting their study, those persons are unwittingly robbing themselves of the experience of sampling the varied fruits of noble human thought.
The article in the Christian Science Monitor quotes Ms Patricia King, an educational psychologist attached to the University of Michigan as saying, “The good news is that an increase in critical thinking appears to be a direct outcome of attending college. The bad news is that even by the time they graduate, most college students don’t reach the higher levels of critical thinking involving true reflective judgement. They’re making what we call quasi-reflective judgements. Even four years of college only brings traditional-age college students to a very low level of critical thinking and judgement. Seniors do have the ability to understand that a controversial problem can and should be approached from several perspectives. But they are often unable to come to a reasoned conclusion even when all the facts to solve a problem are present. They are left on the fence…They are unable to reach or defend a conclusion that’s most reasonable and consistent with the facts.”
We would like to proffer the suggestion that parents and guardians of young minds should begin the process of encouraging their charges to develop and exercise their critical faculties. This process could begin with reading and also during the viewing of appropriate television programmes. By asking the right questions as a story or programme unfolds, parents would be inculcating in their young ones the ability to reject the illogical and inane as well as the intellect to recognise and appreciate what is noble and uplifting.