We built an education system designed on Information Retention skills because information was, until about very recent times, scarce. We needed to memorise because timely access to information was a problem. The analog, printed stuff that we had - which was the primary form information was stored - was place-bound and time-shifted. Even if someone knew it, it took some time to be available for general consumption. And, it sat on bookshelves or filing cabinets. Knowing things, as in remembering, was the mark of an educated person.
But we have the opposite problem now. We have too much information. Gutenberg and his press brought a revolution that doubled the information stock of the world in fifty years. Now, we are doubling it, a much larger information stock, in three years or less. Every person in the world has 320 times more information than was stocked in the entire Library of Alexandria, designed to hold all the knowledge of the world. And, within this deluge, even if we miss a bit, there is Google.
So, we need a different ability, as Howard Rhinegold calls it, for Crap Detection. The problem that we face today is that anyone with a computer can add a bit to the information stock, which can become readily available to all public (I am guilty of the same sin, right now!). So, we would see discarded helmets on Mars, alongwith a claim that some mythical people got there first! Or hear gossips that can start riots! We need abilities to filter the information that we take in. This is some sort of a reverse filter - the trick of remembering in an earlier time was to focus on the key elements and not letting it go out - and being educated today mean that we are less susceptible to misinformation and nonsense.
This ability, more or less, is critical thinking, which is indeed, critical. Without being able to interrogate the information coming our way, we would simply go mad. However, this is not about simply filtering information - because we all filter things based on what we like - but filtering it in a certain meaningful way. So, one can not be doing Critical Thinking when someone is a Nazi cultist (or liberal democrat) and s/he chooses to reject everything that does not fit her/his worldview. Critical thinking is a different sort of filter, made out of skepticism. Do I believe everything that I see on the Internet, one ought to ask. In fact, the question is, should I believe anything at all, without evidence. And, indeed, what evidence would be enough? And, while I do all the judgements, am I keeping an eye on myself that I am not tending to believe what I want to believe?
Indeed, it is at this point when the whole thing gets interesting, or absurd. How far can one keep questioning, and is there really a way to understand own biases and preferences? The purely rational formulation that it is only based on evidence stumbles at this point, because we often see what we want to see. And, therefore, a model of critical thinking without the basis of anything else other than available evidence may be fallible. One of my students told me that he believed that pre-historical Indians had the technology to fly - they wrote about this in their great books and eminent experts in the recent Indian government had endorsed this - and despite some people claiming that this could not be true, he would like to believe the former rather than the latter because of the political affiliations of the people in the latter group. He indeed had evidence, a mention in the great books and endorsements of some experts, and he could claim that he did think through critically. But there are two problems with this model. First, he chose to ignore protestations of some other experts on the ground of his personal preference, that they were politically motivated, and not on the strength of the evidence they were presenting. And, second, more importantly, this filter did not make any reference to disciplinary conventions. Considering that we are talking about technologies of the past, we should be referring to the methods that we have built within the discipline of archeology, which is about finding remnants of the past and trying to build a whole model around it. This assertion - that Ancient Hindus could fly - was not supported by Archeological evidence, but by mentions in a book (by which measure, Jules Verne would have seen people sent to the Moon), and hence, just evidence by itself is not enough. The ability to think critically has to be based on an attempt to transcend own subjective preference as well as application of disciplinary thinking (discipline as in an university, rather than as in military). So, critical thinking is application of a filter informed by culture - the accumulated body of knowledge and disciplinary methods - and indeed, in this form, extremely important for living and doing things in age of information deluge.
However, critical thinking, by itself, is not enough. One of the great problems of modern scientific education, where critical thinking is the key, is that it may end up being too harsh, too disconnected and ultimately oblivious to the possibilities that exist beyond the immediate realm. Critical thinking, as great an ability it may be, is nothing if this is not supplemented by respect, an ability to work with other people and to be able to listen and learn. Critical thinking, to be effective, is not about demolishing all the arguments and demeaning everyone else in the quest of intellectual superiority, but a certain position of not accepting anything without a proper consideration, with a Good Humoured Inflexibility, to use an expression coined by Emerson.
For the reasons I mentioned above, Critical thinking is an important ability, and this is one thing educators all agree upon. However, the agreement on meaning is often more difficult than the agreement on the words themselves. And, besides, the dangers of being too critical, as Jane Addams will point out, are completely forgotten when one pushes ahead with the importance of being critical.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The Creativity Imperative Businesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously. Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.