Details of my critical thinking course

New session starting soon!

Introduction to critical thinking: what is critical thinking? What are the 5 pillars? Can it really be taught?

Introduction to critical reading

Aristotelian appeals: logos, ethos & pathos

What is rhetoric? What is the rhetorical situation?

Persuasion/argumentation:

  • What is argumentation?
  • Claims, warrants, premises and conclusions
  • Identifying premises & conclusions with exercises

50 fallacies are included including ad hominem, red herring, straw man, amphiboly, appeal to tradition etc. 3 sessions are dedicated to explaining the fallacies & one session is devoted to doing exercises.

One class is dedicated to comparative religion and herstory

Moral dilemmas are introduced and worked through in class

Media ethics are discussed with examples from newspapers/tv. We discuss how the media in Pakistan often violates their own ethical guidelines.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is read and discussed. In this session, we discuss the nature of “truth”.

Distinguishing reliable sources from unreliable “noise” is also taught.

The course concludes with a presentation (argument speech) by the participants.

Engaged pedagogy

On Saturday, I delivered a talk on applying critical thinking skills in the classroom to 450 teachers in Islamabad. Here is the write up I’ve sent them.

Is this image familiar? It certainly spoke to me. This is how I felt about education as a child in Pakistan but not later, when in an International Baccalaureate sixth form college. As a student of the International Baccalaureate whose base was weak in critical thinking (thanks to the private Pakistani schools I had attended), I struggled. But even today, I remember much of what I learnt. I retained it. I still remember my tedious critical thinking classes, taught in the form of a compulsory subject called Theory of Knowledge. I still use what I learnt there. Did I just get lucky? Or was it because I was no longer part of a passive education system?

We, Pakistani teachers, are passive educators and today I appeal to you to band together to get rid of this system for it has too many disadvantages. It promotes authoritarianism, suppresses thoughtful inquiry and has a negative impact on creativity & imagination. Furthermore, it doesn’t teach students how to “learn to learn” or make informed decisions. It creates a culture of dependency and it certainly doesn’t motivate. Can we even call this real education? I certainly can’t.

Children are born critical thinkers. We, the adults, actively suppress that skill they are born with. According to bell hooks, “thinking is an action” but our children are taught to fear it at home and in schools. As a result, they reach college unprepared and struggle with critical thinking courses. Many are unable to think critically and some are unwilling. They are scared of philosophy and say it is “useless”. It is a struggle to teach them and it is a struggle for them to learn something so basic: how to think. Should it have to be?

Currently, we live in a culture where lecturing is the norm and we believe that it is important to lecture. It is, after all, a skill they must learn. However, lecturing is a passive activity which has many drawbacks. I know I’m not the only teacher who believes that lecturing is counterproductive. It discourages participation because it isn’t easy to make a connection with listeners. It is incredibly boring. The message we are sending non critical thinkers, who cannot be active listeners, seems to be “learning is NOT fun kid, and you better know it from the start!”

In order to break this culture, we should move away from lecturing to interacting. According to bell hooks, “engaged pedagogy begins with the assumption that we learn best when there is an interactive relationship between student and teacher.” Students become active participants but they must be provided a safe space where everyone is free to respectfully disagree.

So what can we do? Here are a few tips:

Make this a golden rule: our job is to teach, not preach. Always be open minded and be aware of your biases & prejudices. Don’t be judgemental (but be skeptical) and always be open to new ideas and perspectives.

Don’t be scared of being challenged by a student. Students should be free to disagree or ask clarifying questions. That is how they will learn!

If a student asks you the answer to a question you don’t know the answer to, say “I’ll look it up & get back to you”. It is much better than giving misinformation or silencing a curious mind. Remember that we’re human and it’s ok to expose our humanity to our students. We are not robots and we shouldn’t be afraid to share our stories or emotions. We shouldn’t be afraid of not knowing an answer. It’s certainly better to be respected for being human than it is to get faux respect out of fear.

Encourage your students to work towards the solution of the problems you’ve posed instead of spoon feeding them. Even if they can’t solve the problem in class, don’t answer it. Let them go find the answer. One may come and give it to you herself in the next class!

Encourage and teach argumentation instead of only debating.

Expose students to diversity and alternate perspectives even if you don’t agree with the alternate perspectives. You owe it to them!

Teach logic and promote logical thought.

Encourage creativity in all subjects. It’s possible! As a student of IB higher level math, I had to complete a portfolio which I found incredibly tedious. I later realised it was very valuable.

Please do allow the students to use their imaginations and be creative.

Insist on small class sizes.

We, teachers, should be lifelong learners. We also teach by example: stern, unbending, judgemental, paternalistic attitudes aren’t conducive to critical thought!

Finally, please feel free to email me at nabiha@theknowledgefactory.org I am happy to share my resources or answer any questions.

My critical thinking course

After I wrote about how lack of critical thinking is creating an intolerant and indoctrinated society, I really thought there would be no solution other than overhauling the entire education system and introducing a system similar to the International Baccalaureate. While I still feel that the current private school O and A level system needs to be replaced with something better, I know it’s not going to happen any time soon.

Under the current system, students arrive at university without any critical thinking skills. They struggle with critical thinking courses and they also do not know how to present well. After excelling in school, this leads to a loss of self confidence and can impact their academic performance. Surely the deserve better and if schools aren’t teaching them critical thinking, someone should. So after months of just thinking and planning, I have finally set up a critical thinking course for students. It is twice weekly and two months long. Here is the facebook page for this course as an event and here is the official description on The Knowledge Factory’s official website. Although it was meant to start this week, not enough people have registered so we have delayed it for a week until we have enough participants.

My teaching philosophy is that learning should be fun. For this course, there will be no reading. Instead, I will use animations, videos and images in class. Because I personally find lectures boring, it will be interactive and will be a safe space for debate.

Do check it out and sign up if you’re interested. You can also contact me at nabiha@theknowledgefactory.org for more details or just leave a comment here.