The Study Dude—Yesterday’s Insanity

Today’s critical thinking once sounded crazy.  Would Elvis have considered today’s options for gender?  That he could become a woman who loves women but identifies as a man?   A product of critical thought, stemming from feminist theory on gender.

So, what’s wrong with critical thinking?  In my view, critical thought has a victim mindset.  A feminist prof once snarled when I asked, “What’s critical thinking?’  She replied, “If you need to ask, you don’t belong here.” That year, I didn’t give her a Christmas socking—I mean stalking—oops—stocking.  No victim here.

“What makes you mad?” goaded my supervisor, crunching her face into a growl, fixed on finding a spark in me for critical theory.  Gifts of secondhand undies, I thought. And my feminist prof.  Nothing more.

So, what’s right with critical thinking?  Some profs thumb-up adding personal tales into your thesis.  Your peeves, your struggles, the chatter in your brain.  One way to put yourself into your paper? Jot (and circle) your thoughts in book margins as you read.  Then weave your thoughts into your paper.  Just don’t, by mistake of course, cite your ideas with the book author’s name.

Yes, critical thinking begins with your thoughts on others’ ideas.  And your personal life ebbs into your thoughts.  Sadly, many academic writers seem gagged from using “I” in papers.  Instead, academics do workarounds. They weave one author’s ideas with the next—just to say something slightly different.

But workarounds fare better than personal tales.  Why?  Our self-talk seems irrational.  Our emotional responses, more irrational.  But this world seems riddled with irrationality, doesn’t it?  Yes!  The weird that goes mainstream marks the norm.

Thomas R. Klassen and John A. Dwyer dumb down critical thinking for newbies in their book How to Succeed at University (And Get a Great Job!): Mastering the Critical Skills You Need for School, Work, and Life:

  • One reason to get a graduate degree? Critical thinking lessens your risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • What do critical thinkers do? They compare, analyze, and synthesize ideas. They sometimes form theories.
  • “There’s nothing intrinsically mysterious about theories. They are just useful abstractions that combine, organize, and distinguish related concepts for explanatory purposes” (p. 87).
  • Critical thinkers pick out key concepts from data.
  • Also, they link those concepts into a theory.
  • Concepts make-up theories.
  • Critical thinkers often use bias in the concepts they choose. Often hidden bias.
  • So, to think critically, discover the hidden assumptions.
  • To find hidden assumptions, look at the authors’ background and other context.
  • Look at yourself, too. Critical thinking demands we talk to ourselves.
  • The problem with self-talk? Our thoughts overflow with “misleading or contradictory meanings” (p. 78).
  • Plus, our stories (narratives) don’t yield the best knowledge. So, for truly critical thought, seek out meaning instead of personal tales.
  • And connect what you already know with what you learn.
  • But only make claims supported by your data.
  • Best of all, you don’t have to accept everything inside a theory. Instead, mix tidbits from many theories into your claim.
  • Most of all, “’If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” (p. 76). Let your critical skills solve problems, not merely criticize.

A prof once said the world doesn’t steadily improve.  Sometimes, he said, the world regresses into the dark ages.  But doesn’t critical thinking better tomorrow?  No—because today is yesterday’s insanity.