Critical Thinking and the Christian Perspective

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Critical Thinking and the Christian Perspective:

A Response to Baird and Soden

by Wendy Dutton, Thomas Hart and Rebecca Patten

Patten College

In their article, "Cartesian Values and the Critical

Thinking Movement," Faculty Dialogue (Winter 1993), Dr. Forrest

Baird and Dr. Dale Soden critique the critical thinking movement

by suggesting that it is based on Descartes's paradigm. Unlike

educators who find the advocacy of critical thinking a worrisome

thing because it redefines the role of the educator as a

questioner who models thinking rather than as a lecturer who

prescribes knowledge, they raise questions about whether critical

thinking is a viable enterprise for faculty who hope to integrate

faith and learning in the classroom. As Christian educators,

however, we find this to be a disturbing proposition. Certainly,

there is plenty of room for reexamination of critical thinking as

a discipline, but we believe critical thinking must be a part of

every Christian classroom if we are to maintain our integrity.

Baird and Soden state that in the critical thinking movement

"there appear to be underlying values that are too often

unstated" (p. 77). They go further to clearly state their

position: "these values are problematic for the Christian

scholar and teacher," (77) arguing that the movement is based on

the "Cartesian approach to epistemology" and "therefore the

methods reflect the weaknesses associated with Descartes." (77)

The authors proceed to do three things:

1) They examine the Cartesian paradigm, its history and

basic characteristics;

2) They maintain that the critical thinking movement is

based on this paradigm;

3) Finally, they raise questions about whether critical

thinking should be taught in the Christian College

classroom if the movement is indeed based on this

paradigm.

The issue we want to raise is whether the critical thinking

movement is indeed based on Descartes's paradigm. We suggest

that in relating the two movements, Baird and Soden have

misunderstood the purpose and intent of the critical thinking

movement.

First, it is inaccurate to address "critical theorists" as

if they all agreed. Indeed, there are a great many approaches,

systems, and even descriptions of what critical thinking is or

should attempt to accomplish. As with the exploratory stages of

any new movement or method of teaching, the approaches are myriad

and indeed in the experimental stages. Some teachers use

critical thinking to study across disciplines - science,

economics, politics, art, history. (Descartes -- with his strong

leanings toward math and science - was indeed a forefather of

cross-discipline studies.) Some use an issue-oriented approach,

applying critical thinking to everything from gender to humor,

war and peace, even the media's treatment of certain issues. At

the root, critical thinking is used as a tool to examine our very

thinking processes - assumptions, stereotypes, biases, reasoning.

Critical thinking strives to point out that there are not only

two sides to every issue, but multiple sides. Critical thinkers

strive to break down preconceived thinking patterns and build a

more sturdy path to sound reasoning. Indeed, the most standard

criticism of critical thinking today is, "Don't we all do this

anyway?" In fact, we should. There is a "critical thinking

movement" in which many scholars are writing and discussing

critical thinking, but the result of this discussion is a wide

variety of perspectives on the subject.

Second, neither the critical...
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