Critical thinking

Asking the hard questions

One of the most useful suggestions to come out of the thread on reinventing Ireland was the notion of teaching critical thinking in schools, a form of thinking that can dissect a problem and expose the heart of it.

It might seem like an obvious idea, but to my mind, it’s one of the most radical proposals I have ever seen.


Because in this country, rational questioning thought is seen as something dangerous, something almost subversive, something to be suppressed.  You can see it at work in a very superficial way when the waiter asks Irish people how their meal was.  No matter how gum-festeringly foul the grub, and no matter that the entire table is swimming in a pool of vomit, Irish people will smile and nod and tell the waiter that it was Fine.  Fine thanks.   Here, have a big bastard of a tip.

If you have kids you’ll be familiar with this.  Your child asks you to help with some maths problem, so you look at it, and your mind goes click-click-click and you try to guide the child through the logical steps to the solution.

No good.  It doesn’t matter that you arrived at the right answer.  It’s not the way the teacher does it.

That drives me bonkers, but it says more about the system than it does about the teacher.  It speaks of a method that fears innovative, logical thinking and rewards learning by rote.  Cookery-book mathematics instead of insight and effective problem-solving.   The teacher is irrelevant, a product of the same numbing, unimaginative process that is now trying to blunt the intelligence of your child.  What hope have we?

Of course, it’s not confined to mathematics, but I have always said this is one of the most subversive subjects that can be taught in school, because mathematics is nothing more than a process of abstracting  the essential points from a problem and representing them in symbolic form so that they can be examined logically.  There can be no better training of the critical mind if the teaching is done properly.

From the very beginning, our school system is based on authority instead of collaboration. In the very best of our primary schools, teachers and parents are partners, but in the majority, you’re forced to address some barely-post-adolescent junior teacher as Miss this or Mister that, even if you’d treat them as raw youths anywhere but in their classroom where they have the opportunity to victimise your child should you challenge them.

It doesn’t stop there.  For generation upon generation, Irish people were force-fed a diet of facile, childish, religious nonsense, and encouraged to be passive.  Not to question.  Never to challenge the authority of clergy, or of anyone else in an official office, and of course that’s how we ended up with the horrors of the industrial schools, and the abusive clergy in every parish throughout the land, raping our children.  Nobody dared to ask hard questions.

Why?  Because that sort of thinking has been systematically beaten out of our psyche over hundreds of years.

For all our undeserved reputation as story-tellers, we Irish can barely string two sentences together when asked to stand up in front of an audience.  We mumble, we mutter and we stare at our shoes. Look at our national parliament, where nobody dare speak without reading from a sheet of paper. So much for spontaneity.

Speaking is another form of thinking.  It’s a way of shaping ideas, turning them, considering them from all angles, kneading them and moulding them until we fuly understand what it was we intended to express.  Without words, abstract thinking is difficult.  I remember years ago reading some clever old fellow who said that words are the very stuff of thought, and I think he was right.

In this country, we need to encourage  our children to speak fluently, but we don’t, perhaps because we’re not much good at it ourselves.  When we manage it at all, we produce plastic horrors like the Billie Barry kids, instead of natural, unaffected, confident speakers.  I’ve often wondered if this is a hangover from our sense of inferiority in colonial days.  Are we afraid to speak, without adopting the fake accents heard in certain parts of the capital for the last three or four generations?  This is the same post-colonial malaise that right now, as I write, paralyses Brian Lenihan, sitting opposite his IMF betters and acquiescing to all their demands.  Somewhere deep in the Irish psyche is the belief that a foreigner always knows best.

Pomposity is a curse on the Irish people.  The inability to admit we were wrong.

Brian Lenihan is a classic example of Irish pomposity, much like his bumptious, posturing father, and I believe that a component of his current stupidity has to do with a fear of admitting he made a mistake.

Years ago, I visited various Scandinavian countries, and I was very impressed with their language.  Possibilities.  If this doesn’t work, we design it so that we have the possibility to …

They always had a plan B and a plan C.  They had no problem confirming that humans are fallible, and they planned accordingly, unlike our people, who devise a method of working and stick with it even when it has patently failed.  And that’s the difference between Scandinavia and Ireland.

How do we change all this?

When so many of our emigrants returned after the flight of the 80s, they had seen how other countries do things, and they had seen how other people live.  They made a difference to the real economic prosperity of the 90s before our country became defiled by Bertienomics.   But those in charge of our country, such as Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy, were narrow, limited, ignorant men, with little experience of anything outside their little parishes, and unless we tackle that problem, we’re going nowhere.

Ironically, such small intellects as Ahern, McCreevy and the rest of the FF politicians, are products of exactly the same stultifying educational structure that has hamstrung the country in every way.

We need to break this pattern, but it isn’t enough to start teaching infants to think independently.   We need to break the habits in ourselves of sloppy thinking, of failing to ask hard questions, and of passive-aggressive resentment instead of open, honest, genuine challenge to the kind of certainties people would force on us.

Certainties such as we now hear day in and day out about what would happen if we told the  IMF to take a jump for itself.

In many posts here, I’ve reiterated the same thing.  There’s only one kind of thinking: the scientific kind, where you look at the evidence and see if it stacks up. Everything else is just waffle, supposition, prejudice or lies.

If you don’t believe me, folks I give you Brian Lenihan.


Previously: Scientific method

42 thoughts on “Critical thinking

  1. Ireland hasn’t needed critical thinking. As Eamon O’Cuiv pointed it it always has plan B. ‘Prayer’. How’s that working out for everyone?

    Bock we’d need to get the thundering shitheads who think schools are for capturing little sunbeams for jesus out of the educational system first.

  2. I agree with everything you said here, especially with the notion that the children in Ireland are not taught to think for themselves. Isn’t the church still heavily involved with schools and in some way or another with the curriculum and the teaching methods? Of course, they have an interest in submissve subjects who wouldn’t dare to think or, hell no, speak out a thought.
    Not really a colonial thing. The church had and has an interest on their own to keep the people stumm. Wasn’t that their deal with the Brits to get their Catholic Emancipation?

    The friendliness of the Irish is legendary. But it’s a superficial one, and they rather tell lies than to admit that they don’t know something (i. e. asking them directions, they don’t have a clue, send you off to some place in the middle of nowhere, just to be “polite” – bullshitting starts even on small levels).

    But: I don’t agree with your “There’s only one kind of thinking: the scientific kind…” That’s restrictive as well. Science is in flux, there is never one “true” thing to follow along.
    Logic follows a lot of things, including intuition which, in my opinion, is based on experience, knowledge and the ability to make quick connections even if you don’t analyse them first. You can learn it, but it means to think for yourself, and that means to be able to think beyond any teachings, even the scientific ones.
    The word intelligence comes from the Latin intellegere, which means to make connections, putting several thoughts and knowledges together to come to a conclusion.

    With your maths example I actually remembered a maths teacher of mine. I’ve had a lot of wonderful teachers in my time, by the way. Anyway, I was never a shining light in maths, but I had a thing for logical steps and to get a result. I once had to solve a mathematical task but couldn’t figure out the steps I was supposed to do. So I thought and thought and thought and came up with satisfying but completely out of the books logical steps and got the right result. The teacher looked at it for ages, then said something in the way like “brilliant” and, more importantly: “You understood the essence of mathematics, that is being logical in your own way and getting the right result. Maths is meant to learn how to think logically, and you did it”. It was a defining moment in my life and I’m forever grateful to this teacher.

    I don’t have any experience with the Irish school system, but have a few teachers in my circle of friends. But none of them would think outside the oulde traditional thinking cap. Sad, really.

  3. Bock: ok, understood. Maybe I had too much definition of science as my Irish teacher friends define it on my mind. Assumptions – embarrassing… should have known you are not the kind to believe in text book science.

  4. Cutting-edge science is about having intuitions and then carrying out the hard investigations to find out if they have any evidence supporting them. Irish politics, on the other hand, seems to be about making things up and believing them without any evidence.

  5. You know what I find parodoxical about science and the scientific method, the fact that the measuring and testing of our world around us, of reality, is sensed through consciousness. The only reason our senses can give us data about the world is because the process of measurement involves and requires a subject who experiences the sensory data, but the experience itself cannot be measured. So I think science relies on an aspect of reality that cannot be measured.
    It seems to me science can quantify reality, describe reality, but it’s not reality. I liken it to a quote I read once – the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.

    Similarly with words and language, they can attempt to express thought. But they are not thought. Without words, abstract thinking is not difficult at all. Abstract thinking can happen with imagery – art for instance.
    I’d disagree with the clever old fellow you mention in that regard Bock.

    In terms of what Carrig mentioned with intuition, here’s a quote I like from Einstein that seems fitting.
    “There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.” “Never prove”

    Bock, could you possibly write something positive on the Irish psyche sometime. It’s depressing reading our friendliness is superficial. That’s purely an interpretation and subject to one’s own cynicism.
    Are there any admirable attributes to humbleness? Can confidence run amok and become arrogance?
    What about attributes such as honesty, integrity, social empathy that the most intelligent (critical thinkers), well spoken orators within the EU/IMF might not possess?

  6. This is a post about how we might take positive steps to improve ourselves. In order to determine what those steps should be, we must identify our weaknesses, and I’d have to say to you that we’re not exactly a beacon of honesty and integrity to the world at the moment.

    By the way, I’d be interested to see more details of your proposal to sense the world through unconsciousness.

  7. Agree with you there Bock, we’re not a beacon of honesty and integrity. So I think that’s what should be admired and encouraged first and foremost.

    I didn’t say we could sense the world through unconsciousness, but that consciousness cannot be measured – “the experience itself cannot be measured”.
    It’s just something to ponder. I’m not disagreeing with the scientific method, just adding to it.

  8. It’s not my area, but I imagine measurements of various sorts have been defined for consciousness. Like all other phenomena, it depends how you define it.

    However, this is getting off track. The post is about analytical thinking, and therefore I’m saying we need to follow the scientific method. We need to encourage evidence-based inquiry instead of just coming up with any old rubbish off the top of our heads, without testing how true it is

  9. Can’t disagree with any of that.
    In the arena of economics, analytical thinking is very important, as well as compassion and social empathy. And a little courage wouldn’t go astray either. All sadly lacking in our leaders for reasons you’ve pointed out on numerous occasions.

  10. The key component of CET ( Critical Effective Thinking ) is that you are personally responsiblefor making your own ” happiness “and fulfillment through the quality of your choices.
    Humans have a large capacity for self awareness and for thinking themselves in and out of difficulty, The skills developed throgh CET support the control of thinking and helps you to make choices which support rather than oppress.

    There are so many aspects of our thinking which when not evaluated as to their value in our present lives become destructive and oppressive.
    I do agree with Carrig regarding the ” Lies and bullshit ” So prevalent in Society in Ireland, But I disagree that CET can be ” Taught ” because to make it truly effective it has to be presented as a facility from which people can avail and select their individual skills and tools on a very personalised basis.

    I ran a few programmes on CET in schools here with Transition year students and its not that ” They dont think for themselves ” in fact they do, Its that they recieve little or no support and expansion on what they think because there is rarely anyone to answer their questions and promote further questioning that can benefit them.

    There are some basic initial areas to address when approaching and investigating CET which does require a hard hitting honest approach to oneself.
    There are a variety of mental processes that can be subsumed under the word Thinking, If you are to control your thinking, It is important to become aware of and influence your thinking about precisely how you think, As thinking is an integral part of himan existence, Humans are condemned to be thinkers and choosers.
    Some examples of processes of thinking.
    Anticipating / creating /judging
    Attributing / deciding /knowing.
    Being aware / distorting / memorizing
    Believing /Evaluating / problem solving.
    Identifying your personal rules / Combating your self oppressing rules
    There are many methods to address all of the above and taking ownership of same is brought about with CET.

    As a Society , The Irish have a propensity for firstly ” Catastrophising ” prior to an event and then engaging what we now seem to believe we possess, Even though the truth of that was accepted more by our ” caricturising ” by non Irish people as this amazing self deprecating humour usually induced by large amounts of the National brew.

    If we were really so self deprecating and humourous then why do we have such incredibly high levels depression and other mental illnesses ?
    Truth is we are not really any funnier than an other Nation but we have chosen to believe we are only because people tell us that.
    Thats basically just an example, There are numerous examples of our lack of CET.

  11. Norma — I wasn’t so much thinking of happiness and fulfilment. Figuring out what’s relevant and what’s not would do me for now.

  12. Bock. I got that , My comment was based on the fundamental criteria adopted on a micro level, That translates to the larger Political / Economic platform on a macro level using the same principle.

    The undercurrent of the Irish problem right now is the perception that a sudden and immediate crisis is top of the agenda, We are not prepared , and are lacking in the skill to process the vast amount of information we now may percieve as necessary to survival.
    The human mind contains cut off points when overloaded with information that is not conducive to problem solving, As the mind is very finely tuned for that purpose.

    To measure the risk assessment we are currently attempting to process is being thwarted and fraustrated by the drip feeding and blatant lies that we are struggling to accept and yet deny in order to maintain our equilibrium.

    Its basically down to now processing that Ireland borrowed, developed and lived way beyond its means, Default orderly or disorderly , The people of this Country will still struggle enormously to contain the strength of purpose to assess and plan for the future, It is my belief that for many, This can lead to a more common purpose but sadly there will be those who will want to cling to the self limiting beliefs that brought us here in the first place.

  13. Regarding the math teaching: I see that myself also with my kids. If they come to ask me for help, I often have a better way to solve the math problem than the teacher did. But they usually say that it’s too complicated for them, which it isn’t always, and they just want to know how the teacher did it, even if it’s not the best or even a good way to do it.

    I found a book in a used bookstore by Edward De Bono called “Children Solve Problems” (1972). He gave 5-15 year old boys and girls various problems that they were supposed to solve by drawing a solution, giving explanations if they wanted. It’s amazing to see how creative kids can be before they get boxed into a rigid way of thinking.

    One of the questions was “how do you weigh an elephant?”. The kids came up with great, original ideas, like floating them in water and measuring the displacement, putting a scale under each of the elephant’s feet, etc. And interestingly, many of them, without prompting from the question, realized that a big part of the problem was how to get the elephant to want to be weighed. Many of them tempted them with buns, with only one of them resorting to a whip. Many used cranes, and one used a helicopter! For some, the elephant had to get up to the scale; for others, the scale was underground so the elephant just had to walk onto it. Some scales had springs, some had weights, and one had a flexible metal sheet that bent downwards according to the weight of the elephant. One child, realizing the difficulty of the problem, decided that it was best to weigh it when it was a baby, and easier to handle!

    Here’s the answer from one 5 year old girl: “I would make a HUGE weighing machine and weigh the elephant” (with a corresponding drawing). De Bono comments on that that it’s the sort of no-nonsense answer that you’d “expect from the chairman of a large company or a govt minister, both of whom would leave more exact solutions to their technicians”. Kind of like “let’s just borrow a LOT of money, and somebody will eventually pay it back, somehow. You guys figure out who, when and how”.

  14. Some1lovesyou. That is the whole point except Crital thinking should probably be called ” Simplified thinking ” Except that due to our understanding of words it wouldnt be acceptable.

    I have genuinly sought all the relevant and maybe even some irrelevant facts to get my head around this crisis, Having my morning coffee while checking the lastest bond yields wouldnt be my usual choice.
    The conclusion I have drawn now is that, The core foundation of CT being ” Happiness, fullfillment through responsibilty of choice ” Is exactly whats at play here, I’m not referring to ” Happiness and Fulfillment ” as reaching some state of personal bliss where we smiling and contented as cows.

    Happiness and Fulfillment is the opiate of the masses, How to achieve a genuine state of same is dependent on responsible choice making, Therefore , It became very apparant that this ” Opiate” was offered en masse through a Financial / Consumer driven array of choices, Viewed from the ” Top ” down or the ” Bottom ” up , We will arrive at the same conclusion.

    Banks drove profits through the roof with the selling of Shares, Loans, Mortgages, They borrowed on the projected growth of their sales, Basic supply / demand.
    Developers built substandard Housing , Maximising profit using poor materials in construct, again supply /demand, Do people recall in the early 00’s people queueing on a Sat morning to ” Buy off plan ” ?
    The call of a generation was ” Property Portfolio ” there were people who felt they were lagging behind if they owned only one house.
    Businnesses sprung up from a well of borrowed funds, They operated on a blanket of borrowed funds, They expanded on same, Wages were paid from overdrafts as it became the norm for ” Cash flow ” to be an acceptable and unavoidable condition of business.
    All the warning signs were there, Screaming louder than we will ever scream in penuary, The ” Galway Tent ” and accompanying Helicopters outnumbered seagulls over Galway Bay, It became the pinnicle of recognition among our peers than we were strong and substantial.
    When I say ” We ” I do not include those of us who did head the warnings, But what did ” We ” do ? We did nothing other than to laugh and watch them crash and burn and drag us down in their wake.

    The days of supply / demand are over, We have to change our thinking from a personalised view to a cold hard steely overview of the panorama now before us, We , as Humans will always chase the elusivity of ” Happiness and Fulfillment ” for ourselves, our children and future generations, Except that now we actually have the opportunity to pull the veil of ” Elusivity ” as projected by those who offered it as the ” Opiate ” and experience it in real and enduring terms minus the ” Bliss factor ” which was never enduring, One mans ” Bliss ” is another mans ” Pain ” and thats the essence.

    In a 100 yrs from now, The children of whoever is populating or occupying this Island will read about these days and ask ” Why didnt they just do that or not do that ” It will appear so simple by then.

  15. Should be simple. Citizens with decent values will by default create a decent society. Back to looking in the mirror (without seeing some freak in fancy dress looking over your shoulder). Getting the freaks out of the picture will help.

  16. Some big facts being announced on RTE at the moment.
    Goodbye national pension fund. Goodbye Ireland. Bondholders not taking a hit.

  17. Norma – I think that “simplified” does imply not thorough, although it doesn’t have to. Occam’s Razor says that, other things being equal, the simplest solution that doesn’t add any unnecessary extraneous factors is usually the better one. The emphasis on calling it “critical” thinking, I think (simply critically, I hope) is to say that it’s “questioning” thinking, not accepting propositions at face value. And, as Bock is emphasizing, using the Scientific Method to question, test, confirm and reconfirm said propositions.

    I don’t exactly understand you’re equating CT with “happiness and fulfillment through responsibility of choice”. Everything that you go on to describe seems to be examples of NON-responsible consumeristic choice. What does that have to do with CT?

    Supply and Demand isn’t the problem, I think. It’s how to either increase the supply or lower the demand, not to increase the demand until it overrides the supply. I don’t think that the world can support a China and India who aspire to the same SOL that gluttonous America has modeled for everyone. And America’s roads seem to be paved only with the gold bought with insatiable and unrepayable debt. How can other countries do the same? Ireland seems to be a scapegoat, blaming the people for a debt that they didn’t even create, but now are expected to repay.

    What do you mean by “pull the veil of ” Elusivity ””?

    I hope that in 100 years there will be someone there in Ireland Island – and Earth Island, for that matter – to ask why.

  18. Excellent post, Bock. I agree with everything you said and I don’t see any essential contradictions between your post and the others that follow.

    In responding here I’m trying to cover a lot of ground so I hope this post doesn’t come across as utter ráiméas.

    The Irish education system, particularly at 2nd level, needs to be substantially reformed. There are three main problems with it as I see it:

    1. A Procustean curriculum and examination system where almost everything depends on points gained in one terminal examination, the Leaving Certificate;

    2. The control of the Catholic Church over almost all the primary schools and most of the middle class second-level schools;

    3. An authoritarian ethos that derives from that Catholic control as well as from other societal factors.

    Each of these factors in itself is inimical to critical thinking. The effect of the 3 of them combined is devastating.

    I’ll only deal with the first of them here, as that is more than enough to be going on with for now. In this regard, as I said in the “Re-inventing Ireland” discussion, only once in living memory has there been any real attempt to address it, viz., in a set of proposals produced about 25 years ago by the Curriculum and Examinations Board.

    Among the documents it published was The Arts in Education, which I think is relevant to what FME said in post # 6 above. The basic idea proposed was the six main art forms are distinct forms of knowledge that require different ways of teaching, learning and assessment. (This idea is based on the writings of theorists such as LA Reid and Suzanne Langer.)

    But to home in on the topic of critical thinking specifically, it is worth bearing in mind the “Trivium” or the three roads forming the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education. The Trivium comprised the 3 subjects of grammar, logic and rhetoric. It’s the second element of the Trivium, logic, that relates directly to the topic of this thread, I think. And the first thing to be said is that logic is not included in the Irish school curriculum.

    But given your identification of logic with language, Bock, I think your post also relates to English as a subject in the Irish school curriculum. In this regard it seems to me important firstly to distinguish between English as a discursive discipline and English as an aesthetic (including poetry and fiction) discipline.

    English as a discursive discipline is concerned with what one theorist (Margaret Donaldson) has called “disembedded thinking”, which is the kind of thinking you are primarily referring to, Bock, if I understand you correctly.

    One of the problems with English as a subject in Irish schools is that it comprises these two different disciplines (among others) without due regard for the distinction between them. The problem is compounded by the fact that other stuff, such as media studies and “drama” are also thrown into the English bag.

    (I have drama in quotation marks because it’s not really drama. It’s play “texts” treated as literature, whereby two separate art forms, literature and drama, are confused. For example, Shakespeare never intended his play “texts” to be parsed and analysed as language exercises. That’s why there’s so much confusion over the different versions of his plays. He intended them to be performed and viewed, not to be read.)

    In accordance with the current academic fashion everything is regarded as a “text”, which text is then treated as an object of analysis. The trouble with this approach is that the essential difference between, say, a poem by Yeats and a chewing gum advertisement is lost sight of and there is a philosophical confusion between two separate disciplines.

    Of course the proper teaching of literature and drama in schools would involve among other things provision for the creative work of the students themselves in these fields to be assessed in an appropriate manner and acknowledged in their final examination results. Apart from the anti-authoritarian implications of such an approach, it would probably entail complicated and expensive portfolio and continuous assessment processes. Since such radical approaches were not even considered in the boom years, it is safe to assume they will never be introduced.

    Meanwhile, children are compelled for many of their most formative years to sit in underheated dilapidated classrooms in badly run schools being miseducated and indoctrinated into the authoritarian mindset of the “hidden curriculum”.

    I suppose it could be considered a form of systemic psychological abuse.

    At the very least, like most matters of public policy in this country, it’s a mess. But that’s inevitable after decades of incompetent corrupt government. The fish rots from the head down.

    And that’s why we are where we are.

  19. If I were Irish, I would vote for Bock for Taoiseach (even if I can’t pronounce it right), and you (or maybe Norma) for Minister of Education. Just the fact that you even remember what a Curriculum and Examinations Board proposed 25 years ago!

    The Catholic Church controls almost all of the primary schools? Most formative years. Whoa! That would surely make for a sheepish and submissive populace. How did you all rise about that (admission: off topic). Even more amazing, then, that so many people showed up for that demonstration.

  20. Yes, Paul, short and simple, unlike my screed.

    If ethics and critical thinking (including being able to identify common logical fallacies) were explicitly taught in Irish schools, it might make some difference, in spite of all the other obscurantist stuff.

  21. Some1lovesyou . Pronounced ” T Shock ” or maybe ” Teashock ” either is probably more apt anyway.

  22. It isn’t pronounced T-shock.

    It’s pronounced Taoiseach, in Irish, and that sounds quite different, but it isn’t what I wanted to say, which is this: the post is not about economics. It’s about thinking.

  23. Norma and I are talking about economics and politics in relation to what happens when people aren’t trained to think properly. And everything here seems to be related to what’s going on economically now. Although it’s true that there are many posts specifically about that.

  24. I’m not sure if it’s the case that people aren’t trained to think properly – surely evolution took care of that, aas evidenced by that book that was mentioned; the kids already knew how to think correctly – but rather that they are trained NOT to think properly – in other words, to do what they’re told and not question the dogma (both religious and scientific) that gets rammed into their brains from the moment they learn to speak.

    I recall years ago in primary school, one morning being asked to draw a 5 on the blackboard (as part of a sum I suppose). Teacher was gone to a quick fag or something at the time….we had been taught that to draw a 5, you drew the vertical stem, then the “belly” and finished it by “putting the cap” on the number. But I just drew it in one go and was immediately met by a collective howl from my classmates that this was “wrong” and that the symbol I had produced was “not 5”. They took such umbrage to my heresy that when the teacher returned, 20 or thrity little hands shot up with cries of “Miss!Miss!Stephen did the 5 wrong. On PURPOSE!”….little bastards. I think the teacher just shrugged and sent me back to my desk…I used to look back on this and laugh, but nowadays when I notice that whilst my young lad has no problem questioning my teachings, he will fight tooth and nail to avoid, for example, learning how to correctly do algebra because “that’s not the way the teacher showed us”

    To my (limited) mind what has happened is that we’ve become a nation of trained rats…we’ve learned that to be rewarded, we must follow the “rules” of the “game” and not deviate because somehow questioning that the route we’ve been trained to take through the maze is perhaps not the best one is “bad”…we have been trained to essentially celebrate mediocrity which is why we see so many high-placed officials (not to mention the assholes who have just allowed another proxy war* to be fought on Irish soil) who got where they are today not because they are actually of any use to society, but because they have followed the proscribed maze route better than the other rats.

    The quesiton is, how do we fight back against this?

    *you know, the one between the euro and the rest of the world.

  25. CT has broadened its base model to include the ” Human Emotional Element ” So as to circumvent the ” Orthodoxy ” which was threatening its advancement, That is why my posts referred to CET as opposed to CT.
    The roots of CT go back to Socrates on to Plato through to Descartes who focused on ” Clarity and Precision ” Such a methodology filtered on through Karl Marx, Darwin and William Graham Sumner , Who said
    ” Education orthodoxy, unless it is regulated by the best knowledge and good sense will produce men and women who are all of one pattern ” He went on to say ” Popular opinions always contain broad fallacies, half truths and glib generalisations ”

    What breaks the ” Pattern ” in essence is not intellectual capacity but Emotional reasoning, intelligence and development, That is what identifies our individuality and distinct personalities, No degree of Intellectual pursuit alone can attain that status, It is the fine tuning of the combination of Emotional / Intellectual which has value.

    The educational bureaucracy has created a type of pseudo CT in a form of intellectual arrogance which is deeply flawed but sophisticated enough as to be misleading, Whereas Philosophy and Theology has been used as tools to exacerbate the advancement of Science, CT in its ” old model ” form has been fragmented and incoherant delivery, Wrapped in the exclusion zone of such Educational Orthodoxy and restricted to Undergraduates, The best, most talented and most likely to succeed, Adjudicated within the same Orthodox criteria.

    From that arena of ” Elitist pseudo thinking ” developed CET , The inclusion of the word ” Effective ” bringing about the inclusion of ” The Human Emotional Element ” So as to circumvent the ” Orthodoxy ” which had stymied the growth and benefit of CT.
    Its less a new School of Thought and more a more inclusive , more relevant and less arrogant School of Thought.

    Therefore the most basic goals of humankind being ” Happiness and Fullfillment ” are the relevant foundations and from that starting point the inclusion of all intellectual advancement, For without the tempering value of reasoned emotional reaction there leaves only the fallacy which is the easily untruthful and manipulative pseudo intellectual arrogance.

    ” Most people recognise that there is something incoherant about saying that one is well educated but thinks poorly “

  26. I think that’s an important point, if somewhat idiosyncratically expressed.

    “Compassion is the basis of morality.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)

    Ethics as well as critical thinking need to be explicitly taught in Irish schools.

    At present neither of them is taught.

  27. Norma,

    A further point in relation to your post # 27, where you say:

    “Therefore the most basic goals of humankind being ” Happiness and Fullfillment ” are the relevant foundations and from that starting point the inclusion of all intellectual advancement …”

    The eminent psychologist James Hillman made an interesting point about happiness when he said that the famous phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’ in the US Declaration of Independence is probably misguided insofar as happiness (as is implied in the etymology of the word) is typically come upon by chance rather than sought and found.

    While I don’t often cite the Bible as a source, the futility of pursuing happiness is emphasized and reiterated in Ecclesiastes, where it says that seeking happiness is like ‘chasing the wind’.

    In fact it is stated in Ecclesiastes, as well as by a number of eminent ancient writers, that not to have been born at all would be the greatest blessing.

    Or as Samuel Beckett more graphically put it:

    Better on your arse than on your feet,
    Flat on your back than either, dead than the lot
    (Long after Chamfort)

  28. Are those who do the critical thinking thingy not attacked as revisionist ; a word which carries a lot of baggage in Ireland ?

  29. Spailpin Fanach. The word ” Happiness ” is something of a misnomer, That is due to the perception of same as either a state which is unattainable, Except on momentary basis, It is a very abused word, I could supply alternatives but they to would attract inaccurate perceptions.

    The references you made, Firstly, Ecclesiastes, I know precious little about the Bible and have recourse to it in my work, However it might be that Ecclesiastes is the classic example of ” Bad choices ”

    James Hillman also said, Apologies for any inaccuracies in quote. ” Just stop for a minute and you will realise you are happy, just being, Its the pursuit of happiness that screws it up ” or something along those lines, However, JH was quite the Elitist.

    Samuel Beckett and the quote you used is entirely apt, And many including myself have been happy ” On their arse ” As there is no better place to contemplate the mess.

    When I use the word ” Happiness ” It is not some permanent appeasment of pain or discomfort, It is not the dismissal, denial or avoidance of problems, Our own or those of others, It is not some blissed out state of being, It is the rational realisation and acceptance at our inner core of the strength we possess through knowledgable and critical critisism of ourselves and our connection to the environment we inhabit.

    I have only reached this place through thorough examnership of myself, I am not devoid of fear, anxiety, problems, many varied and serious, I am deeply flawed but having recognised those flaws allowed me to aquire some degree of skill and specific tools to acknowledge my own capacity for for the positive and the negative, Therefore affording me control and flexibility and most importantly awareness of the consequences of my choices.

    I will continue to succeed and to fail but recognising that while increasing my appreciation of the parts of my life which are truly important is my own personal well of ” Happiness ”

    Sorry if im making this way too long, My own example of ” Productivity ” in relation to influential movements and the ” Thinking / Creative ” influence on Society would be the Bauhaus movement, which began with an idea of ” Inclusive Art ” Not even an Architecture dept in its initial years, It went on to become the singular most influential movement of a Modernist era, Mainly through its constant shift in focus and development.

    Probably as ” Idiosyncratically expressed ” as usual, But I did tell you , Im flawed, Thank you for your input, It makes me think.

  30. Spailpin Fanach. I meant to say in ref to Bible that I have no recourse to it, My brain / hand cordination out of sync.

  31. Did you ever notice how you can have intelligent conversation more so with people from Europe than with people from Ireland? Of course, for the Europeans it’s just normal conversation. For us the same conversation counts as high-level intellectual discussion. The European you could be talking with may not be particularly well-educated as far as the standards of his country go, but for some reason he comes out with points that you’d only expect to hear only from the smartest and most informed of your Irish friends. Why is that?

    It’s not that Irish people are thick, it’s just that they aren’t very good at critical thinking, in my opinion. We have people who perform admirably in whatever role life has assigned to them, but start up a general discussion on such issues as crime, education, planning, economics and you’ll find that the smart, successful doctors, lawyers, engineers you are chatting with betray a simplicity of thought and understanding that would be almost unfathomable in most other developed nations among the so-called educated middle classes. It doesn’t stop at that. The ignorance is usually cooupled with a totally unmerited assuredness. Our brainy doctor friend insists that Eastern Europeans who don’t work should be deported. The partner in the law firm sees nothing regressive about having large scale one-off housing. The engineer thinks that Bertie did a good job, and Fianna Fáil are the party to get the economy on track. This is the level of discourse we have in Ireland even among our educated and successful people.

    SO, what is it about the Irish? Why are we so bloody bad at critically looking at problems and coming up with anything other than disastrous solutions? The education system must play a part. I note that philosophy is a mandatory subject in french schools. Whatever you may say about the french, it’s a damn good country to live in and they’ve organised their society quite well. Is there a link between the mandatory study of philosophy in french schools and the better grasp of important issues there? In France, when something that is patently wrong is forced down the throats of the french people, the ordinary person there reacts and with certainty. In Ireland, when faced with a problem we all start shouting whatever comes into our heads, each with a different point of view, but so certain that we are right. But our cockiness inevitably masks a shallow understanding of the problems we have and when it comes to it, we’re very unsure of what is actually wrong and we tend not to do anything, because we really don’t know what to do. At best, we turn up in Dublin for peaceful protests to show how angry we are, and then we go home. We make no coherent demands of our legislators, and as a result we elect legislators with incoherent policies and platforms.

  32. To keep it simple if I may, and this is drawn from my own experience of second level education, most young people are well able to employ critical thinking, they’re just not allowed to do so. The best subject I had going through school was french, not for what I learned of the language, but for the discussions and debates that teacher encouraged. Anyone could throw out a question and french would be abandoned to debate it. I learned more from this teacher in two years than I did from over a decade of standard thought. All it takes is a willingness to encourage debate and let it develop.

  33. Bock. Got too caught up in trying to explain ” Happiness ”
    Mermoz. Right on the money.
    Lee. Total agreement, Sec School students would benefit enormously if their questions were answered and they were just listened to rather than being dismissed.

  34. Nice article but I also think that we have a heavy hand in criticising ourselves and give ourselves and overly hard time. I think your piece borders on this. True, there are clear examples of rote, robotic and dogmatic thinking that have led to and still result in poor results for our society, but I believe that for all the criticism the Celtic Tiger cubs have come in for, there is a generation in the making that do have the confidence and expectation to say the food was shit and your getting no fucking tip from me. I look forward to a time when the current plague of bastards that has befallen us shuffles off this mortal coil, and happily two of them today announced their stepping back from public office, and hopefully when they step back there will be a big hole they disappear into.

  35. I agree with each of your three main points, Mermoz, in post 35 above.

    And I know that some of us on this site come back to it again and again, but it’s a huge factor in all of this – the power the Catholic Church still has in Irish society generally and in the education system particularly.

    If we could get Rome off our backs we might have some chance.

  36. Great article. Bock.

    Mermoz wrote,
    “Our brainy doctor friend insists that Eastern Europeans who don’t work should be deported. The partner in the law firm sees nothing regressive about having large scale one-off housing. The engineer thinks that Bertie did a good job, and Fianna Fáil are the party to get the economy on track. ”
    No surprise there. Educational systems almost everywhere (not just ireland) reinforce elite viewpoints.
    It is more important for elites that “professionals” are indoctrinated with the “correct” viewpoints more than “non-professionals” (speaking generally, of course).
    So your experience of the attitudes and views of irish “professionals” gives a disturbingly good insight into the mindset of our elites.

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