Saturday, January 20, 2007

Non-Critical Thinking

So Dave,

Critical thinking is not critical? Then what should it be called -- Linear Thinking? Uni-dimensional thinking? Educational thinking? I agree that there is little critical thinking when driven by adrenaline in a crisis.

However, isn’t critical thinking fun? Don’t you just love a committee to busy itself with a mission statement for weeks on end just to realize that said statement is meaningless to anyone not on the committee?

I often think about the very process of improvisation. On the verge of beginning a jazz solo I am mystified by the process I must go through to choose the first note to begin the solo. No worry about what will follow only what the first note will be. In every case, I never could decide but when the time came to start I did, not even knowing what note I did play.

So what is this about. I could have stopped the rhythm section so that I could have given it some critical thought but that would only frustrate the audience.

Regardless I act as if I really did know where I started and where I was going.

Lastly, I have heard tapes of my solos after the fact and hear things that I cannot reproduce.


Testing the Critical in Critical Thinking

FACCCTS, spring 2004

Non-critical reasoning serves as the substrate for most all of the truly important decisions in my life. All the truly hard decisions I’ve made in my life seem to be only secondarily critical. I certainly married my wife because of strong affective reasoning; my protest of the Vietnam war was certainly powered by strong emotional forces; I irrationally give of my time and resources to the learning of my students because of indefensible impulses of service. In fact, I find it very difficult to find any personally important decisions I’ve made to be based solely on a linear line of critical thinking. So why then are we so consumed to place critical thinking at the forefront of all of our syllabi? I find the disjuncture between “critical thinking” and the normal thinking I do in my life increasingly difficult to bridge. It seems critical thinking should be trumped by a pedagogy that teaches us to use our affective reasoning responsibly. Affective reasoning has the power to make us act; critical thinking merely makes course adjustments.

Certainly to assert our status in the pantheon of academic hierarchy we often posit critically crafted reasoning that may be nothing more than academic spin for our own more affectively based disciplinary doctrines. In our bureaucratic leveraging I sometimes wonder if our critical arguments only cloak our own disciplinary chest pounding. Don’t we all want our courses to exhibit the higher order cognitive domains rather than the lower order drill that assures fluency? There is no prestige in drill, only the power of immediate action.

As a teacher of music appreciation I wonder if we actually learn from our own histories. Why are we not more like those giants of our own canons who do not seem to have led critically thought out lives? We seem to envy their romantic lives neutralized by our own critical inquiry. How do we overcome the inertia of academic hedging and risk the unpredictable world of creative endeavor? Would we really be happy to have the giants of our canons as colleagues or are we playing it safer as voyeurs watching them at a safe historical distance? Can critical thinkers make interesting history?

Do we map this same double standard into our own students? Where are the wildly intellectual students who sit on the opposite side of the academic coin from the more compliant grade grubbers who populate our honors programs? Do our prominent high achievers leverage the understandings of our disciplines or suffocate the universities to which they transfer?

Where is the excitement in critical thinking? Is critical thinking the language of creativity or the language of postmortem editing? Are we being honest with our top students when we consistently channel them into a critically restricted process of discovery which may never generate any creative action? Are we fooling ourselves by thinking that mere analysis of the creative process can ever generate creative behavior? We may as well be taking a course in paradigm shifting.

We are not set up to teach creative behavior. How would one test it when there could never be an answer book? Creativity requires a suspension of judgment. Grades are all about judgment. Creativity explores the contributions of others. Grades encourage self serving competition. Creativity redefines rule sets. The academy employs rule sets. Creativity is messy. Management is neat. What balance is appropriate between creative efforts and managed outcomes?

Perhaps creativity is not what it is cracked up to be. Don’t we need more worker bees than queens? Can a team accommodate more than one creative? How should a team manage its creatives? In our commercial music program we are constantly reminded that our students need to have strong teaming skills. Yet we must also encourage the creatives who strain team efforts. Is there really room for more than one dominant aesthetic purpose? How do we structure our curriculum to groom teaming creatives? Should we?

My first response is that such an effort is not possible within the traditional grade-centric success models now in use. I wear two hats, a music teacher working to prepare students for the fast paced teaming world of media, and a coordinator of a carefully crafted honors program. I see two sides of the student coin. The compliance typical of the honors students is heartwarming. The creative indifference of the personal goal focused music student is disconcerting and at the same time attractive. I certainly teach more to the student unsure of our academic mission rather than the compliant high achiever. Which of these two profiles are likely to populate the canons displayed by our “postgenitors?” Who will leave their mark on the academy, the high speed compliant learner or the expatriated suspicious creative? Can we hybridize the two within a critically crafter curriculum? How in the world would we ever plot measurable outcomes?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Chaumonde's First podcast

Chaumonde has been working feverishly on learning how to podcast for her classes. This is her first podcast and I thought I would share it with you.