Monday, September 15, 2008

Critical Thinking and Writing

Some of you requested quotations I shared at Orientation. We talked about how achieving outcomes requires a semester-long effort, focusing on critical writing on the first day of class, foregrounding critical writing on our syllabi and at the beginning of each class period.

In our Sept. Wed. meeting, we followed up by sharing examples of what we do in the first week or day of class. I suggested that we might evaluate our choices based on desired outcomes as opposed to just doing what we have always done. Thanks to everyone for sharing unique approaches for building community and actively involving students.

Critical Thinking and Writing
WPA Outcomes and UVU Writing
From Orientation Breakout Session—Gae Lyn Henderson
August, 2008.

Wayne Booth insists that students must learn to distinguish between sources, to evaluate and understand the “flood of misinformation” with which they are inundated. He centers The Rhetoric, a culminating book of his distinguished career, around this concern: “A citizenry not habituated to thoughtful argument about public affairs, but rather trained to ‘believe everything supporting my side’ and ‘disbelieve everything supporting the bad side,’ is no longer a citizenry but a house of gullibles” (89).

Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Donald Lazere points out that writing instruction, and the broader field of English Studies, has “defaulted on critical thinking” (264). In one example, while he admires Carol Gilligan’s work in women’s ways of knowing, which “judiciously modified the gender bias” in her predecessors [Lawrence Kohlberg and William Perry], a consequence of her work is that “the notion of stage-development of moral or intellectual reasoning was dropped like a hot potato in English Studies” (264). Similarly, the important critique of various oppressive consequences of Enlightenment reason conducted by the Frankfurt School and other postmodernists, “got misinterpreted as a rejection of reason altogether—a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water” (264-65). Lazere argues that “it is precisely higher order reasoning that is needed to refute the logical fallacies in sexist, racist, class-biased, or jingoistic rhetoric . . . manipulating sociocentric emotion” (265).

Lazere, Donald. “Postmodern Pluralism and the Retreat from Political Literacy.” JAC 25.2 (2005): 257-91.

Richard Weaver, in his analysis of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial,” argues for the difficult, yet invaluable goal of “education in any age,” to create what he names “a Summa Dialectica. . . . [T]he educated people of our country would have to be so trained that they could see the dialectical possibility of the opposites of the beliefs they possess” (124).

Weaver, Richard M. “Dialectic and Rhetoric at Dayton, Tennessee.” Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science. Ed. Randy Allen Harris. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras Press, 1997: 107-25.

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