“The willingness to again and again practice criticism and self-criticism should be roused in the student.” (Critical Thinking Lesson Plan)
If teachers are asked what purposes good school lessons should have, they come up with the following catchphrase, among others: students should learn how to think critically. This appeals to an ideal which sees the object and purpose of education as “not adapting to predefined content.” Students should not “uncritically” believe everything that parents, the media and even teachers put in front of them, but rather be able to form their own opinions and to also question these very opinions over and over again with a critical eye: “Critical thinking also includes the ability to be self-critical.”
A few things should seem suspicious about this critical objective of education:
1. Has there ever been a dispute, among those in favor of “critical thinking,” about which arguments a person capable of criticism should be able to criticize? In fact, it is much more the case that by “critical thinking,” no specific criticism is referred to. One can see this in the fact that, with all the talk about “critical thinking,” it is always the critic who is the subject and never that which he is supposed to be able to criticize. It is really about an attitude one should take before appropriating knowledge or information. “Question everything” is the motto which requires everyone who wants to be taken seriously to display a completely arbitrary reservation with regard to all sorts of things. According to the ideal of critical thinking, the (stupid) statement that “technology destroys nature” is as welcome as the (reactionary) objection that “society simply wouldn’t function without technology,” so one must accept a few “risks”; the first demonstrates critical thinking towards “growth,” while the other demonstrates critical thinking towards criticism of growth. The point of view that education should cultivate an ability to “think critically” is indifferent to the content of any critical argument. This shows how serious this point of view is about criticism.
2. What kind of mental activity does this concern with “questioning predefined content” actually attach such great importance to? The idea that what is undesirable in television or school lessons consists in the fact that in both cases “the contents are predetermined” is the manifestation of the intention to not believe in widespread ideologies and to not adopt pre-fabricated opinions immediately. In order to do this, one must have already dimmed his mind and decided to not waste any serious thought on the ideologies in circulation. To continually problematize how much the student or oneself simply “adopts” an idea from television or some “person of authority,” instead of coming up with the same thought himself, is the cheapest way to show off as a critical person. This is also how the very method of “question everything” is applied. The expression of a vague suspicion of ideology is the whole trick; anyone who brings up a topic and says: “I would like that to be criticized” or “but certainly one also has to criticize” or “you should however also for once criticize” – without giving a reason for it (this would no longer be questioning) – has understood what is required. So one is knowing without any knowledge and critical without any criticism.
3. Now it has become quite clear that “critical thinking” involves a very self-important demeanor. What then is the “ability to be self-critical” all about? Stupid question. One very quickly proves, by detecting a person who doesn’t come off as sprinkling his opinions with enough relativizing empty phrases – “couldn’t one also take the view that...”; “I would like to think...,” etc. – the accusation that he lacks self-criticism. Of course, this attack is only for people who do not share one’s opinions. But one does not argue about them, rather they are simply asserted and take the wind from the sails of every criticism, while one recite one’s own views with an attitude of the most profound modesty. Thus one immunizes every stupidity from criticism – by means of self-criticism. By the way, this aggressive phrase “critical ability” has yet another element of wisdom up its sleeve which can prove useful in suitable opportunities: certain people who make themselves unpopular by lacking this insincere modesty are, of course, highly uncritical. Because they lack self-criticism. That settles it!
4. For people who are interested in the logical mistake contained in the (scientific) concept of “critical thinking,” this might also be briefly mentioned: education theory maintains that the ability to think critically requires the development of a general ability to criticize that supposedly slumbers inside humans. A crazy idea: the possibility of criticizing something specific is supposed to exist in abstraction from each specific criticism, namely in the individual and not in what he has to criticize.