Willingham talk on critical thinking

Aug 28, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I still don't trust Daniel Willingham on critical thinking at all. Here, in a talk posted this week, he seems to depict critical thinking as a type of memory. Explaining a critical thinking failure, for example, he says "they no not recognize that they have information relevant to the problem; instead, they try to 'critically think'." Willingham's main point is that critical thinking relies on 'underlying information', and is indeed impossible without it. The difficulty, he says, is "touching base" with this memory, because we are thinking only of 'surface structure' and not about 'deep structure'. In this respect, 'critical thinking' should be thought of as a 'bag of tricks' which is domain-specific. You can see that this inverts the relation between logic and domain, treating the domain as 'deep and underlying' and logic (and hence, things like probability and mathematics) as 'surface. It's like saying there is a special 'deep' mathematics for physics, and a different one for accounting, and a different one for political science. This is wrong, and will prevent people from being able to reason properly.

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