Willful ignorance or mindful intelligence? Part 3: Questioning the answers

Writer(s): 
Paul Doyon, Visiting Professor, Universidad Catolica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile

“The good student answers questions, but does not question answers.” – Ira Shor

A teacher I know – someone who is seemingly very knowledgeable in the area of critical thinking – mentioned to me how he was feeling dizzy and weak and also that he was having heart palpitations and believed he was suffering from heart arrhythmia. However, when he went to the hospital for a checkup, the tests showed that there was seemingly nothing wrong with his heart. Immediately, he felt better (due to the power of suggestion perhaps), and he instantly presumed that he must have just been imagining the whole ordeal without suspecting in the slightest that the tests might not have been showing the whole picture. More recently,a student missed one of my classes because she was also having heart palpitations and was referred to a famous heart specialist in the city of Santiago here in Chile. He interestingly asked her if she was using her cell phone excessively and whether or not she had WiFi in her home. The latter doctor seemed to be more aware of such information and was perhaps able to make a more informed diagnosis.

Recently I got into a debate with a colleague of mine who firmly believed that one must put quotation marks around block quotations and that block quotations must always be preceded by a colon without appreciating why we have such rules in the first place and then discerning when,and when not,they may apply.

In the first situation we have an unsuspecting trust in authorities (and the tests they give) and in the second an unquestioning compliance to the rules we have inherited. In both cases we can detect an obvious lack of discernment.

In the area of language teaching, there have been times when either the grammar-translation approach, the audio-lingual approach, or some other approach to teaching were the undisputed methodologies to be blindly followed and for one to veer from or question their doctrinaire ways was to seemingly commit a cardinal sin. I have even heard from teachers who have taken one of those one-month CELTA courses and who were forced to teach strictly in line with what Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) dictates—and while I am not adverse to CLT methodology, I am opposed to treating it like a religion and believethat an informed eclecticism is definitely the best methodology. Hence, as the adage goes, we must teach our students “how to think and not what to think” and this would logically comprise the act of being mindful and questioning the answers we have been handed.

I would assume that this applies for teachers too,since if the teachers themselves are not able to think critically, then how can we expect them to be teaching our students to do so. Unfortunately, I have heard too many teachers use the term critical thinkingin what seemed to me an empty platitude without knowing what the term actually meant. Another colleague, who was seemingly castigating me (erroneously I might add) for supposedly notteaching critical thinking skills, was insisting on another occasion that it was enough to just teach students to (mindlessly) obey the rules without having to teach them why we have these rules in the first place and why there would also be exceptions to these rules. I argue on the contrary that by teaching students to be mindful of the reasons why we apply certain rules in language,and their exceptions,we are in fact teaching students to employ and develop discernment, which I also argue here is an extremely important constituent of the ability to think critically. Furthermore, these skills would most likely also be transferred to other areas of their lives and a student body trained to collectively think in a critical fashion by using discernment and other critical thinking skills, would turn into a critical populace, and consequently, a more democratic and rational one in my opinion.

Unfortunately, that is not presently the case. I would dare to argue that at present what we have, for the most part, is a mindless populace trained to obey and regurgitate information in school, and as adults end up believing and regurgitating what is heard and read from corporate controlled media outlets in what I would claim is a form of trickle-down psychopath emanating from the top 1% of the population.

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