There are numerous definitions of critical thinking, but the core concept has been said to be careful, reasoned, goal-directed thinking. There are also many conceptualizations of critical thinking, which are generally more detailed than brief definitions, and there are different views about what the goal(s) of critical thinking instruction should be. Whether critical thinking is a good thing is a matter of debate. Approaches to teaching critical thinking vary, partly, according to whether they focus on general principles of critical thinking or on subject-matter content or on a combination of both. A meta-analysis research report published in 2015 concluded that, subject to certain qualifications, a variety of critical thinking skills and dispositions can develop in students through instruction at all educational levels. Critical thinking instruction has been influenced by research in cognitive psychology that has suggested strategies for countering factors (e.g., biases) that the research has found to produce irrational beliefs. Methods of assessing critical thinking ability include teacher-designed tests and standardized tests. A research report published in 2014 on assessing critical thinking in higher education describes challenges involved in designing standardized critical thinking tests and proposes a framework for a “next-generation” assessment. The challenges include achieving a balance between the assessment's real-world relevance and its psychometric quality, and designing an assessment useful for instructional purposes and for comparisons of programs and institutions. The proposed framework is based partly on a review of existing frameworks of critical thinking in higher education. It has two analytical dimensions and two synthetic dimensions, and a dimension on understanding causation and explanation. Surveys show that employers value employees with strong critical thinking ability; this fact has significant implications for students, teachers, and administrators at all levels of education.
Derek Allen, Sharon Bailin, Mark Battersby, and James B. Freeman
Fostering self-direction in students has long been an aim for both educators and parents as they fear the potentially coercive influence of peer pressure and the many sources that compete to influence what we think and what we do. These fears have motivated educational philosophers to explore the contours of what such self-direction or autonomous thought and action entails on the demands of individual thinking and behavior but also on the types of educational environments needed to foster its emergence. Likewise, educational philosophers have also argued the merits of promoting autonomy in public schools out of fears that some forms of autonomy may limit the ranges of conceptions of the good life that are available to students; many are concerned that promoting autonomy may inspire students to reject family and community ways of life. Despite those concerns, drawing upon thought that traces back to the ancient Greeks, contemporary educational philosophers continue to debate the contours of and justifications for an autonomy promoting education.
The concept of bildung plays a central role in the history of European philosophy of education. Broadly speaking, the concept refers to the interplay between cultural, personal, and educational processes whose concrete contents vary with time and place but with an enduring interest in the self-formation of the subject. From the paideia of Greek antiquity via European modernization and beyond, bildung has been viewed as the true goal of educational processes, more essential than the fostering of skills and competences. Bildung ideals vary with cultural and social imaginaries. Along with the general bildung ideals that exist in all cultures, a more emphatic interest in the question of bildung—what it means and what it ought to mean—can be traced in the Graeco-Western tradition. In various languages and forms, notably as paideia, Bildung, and danning, this self-reflexive and sometimes contested notion can be seen as a catalyst for these societies’ capacity for self-reflection. Three historical phases of bildung theory stand out in this respect: the Greek polis democracy, 508–322 bce, Germany in the period 1770–1830, and the Scandinavian nation-building period, 1850–1900. In these very different historical contexts, the question of bildung, what it means, and what it ought to mean, can be seen to have stimulated self-reflection and self-formation at the individual, sociohistorical, and institutional levels of the societies in question. This complexity of the concept of bildung and its related paradoxes makes it an enduring source of philosophical and practical inquiry, as well as a focus point for social transformation.
Søren S.E. Bengtsen and Ronald Barnett
The research field of the philosophy of higher education is young, having emerged within the last half-century. However, at this stage four strands, or pillars, of thought may be detected in the core literature, around which the discussions and theorizing efforts cluster. The four pillars are (a) knowledge, (b) truth, (c) critical thinking, and (d) culture. The first pillar, “knowledge,” is concerned with the meaning of academic knowledge as forming a link between the knower and the surrounding world, thus not separating but connecting them. Under the second pillar, “truth,” are inquiries into the epistemic obligations and possibilities to seek and tell the truth universities and academics have in a “post-truth” world. The third pillar, “critical thinking,” addresses the matter as to what understandings of being critical are appropriate to higher education, not least against a background of heightening state interventions and self-interest on the part of students, especially in marketized systems of higher education. The fourth pillar, that of “culture,” is interested in the possibility and ability for academics and universities to intersect and contribute to public debates, events, and initiatives on mediating and solving conflicts between value and belief systems in culturally complex societies. When seen together, the four pillars of the research field constitute the philosophy of higher education resting on four foundational strands of an epistemic, communal, ethical, and cultural heritage and future.
Ian Clark, Niculina Nae, and Masahiro Arimoto
Since the 1970s, Japanese society has endured rapid and confusing socio-economic transformation. These changes brought a sense of decentralization into Japanese life. It was a sense of loss and a sense of reality, as the stable dependencies that had characterized the Japanese way of life for centuries vanished. In the years leading up to the 21st century, this radical departure from tradition meant that the concept of continuity existed only to emphasize its absence. Society goes through a process of rapid change, posing challenges not everyone might be ready to tackle. The unintended, but inevitable, consequence is the social disaffection of Japanese youth, who may be losing their motivation (or focus) at a time of sudden and sustained adversity. The Japanese government is promoting the revitalizing energy of education for sustainable development (ESD), and even publicizes ESD’s potential for giving life a robust meaning. This is by no means an exclusively Japanese problem. In recent years, and with Japanese leadership, other UNESCO nations have integrated ESD into curricula. To fully understand the nature of the Japanese system for sustainable education, scholars need to draw from cultural philosophy, social neuroscience, historical analysis, and the ideas of socio-cognitive and constructivist theorists. Such a mix of methods provides an inter-disciplinary “geometry” of the often deeply inlaid shapes, patterns, and relationships that surround the uniquely cultural, yet highly exportable models for zenjin-education (“whole-person”).
Care theory emphasizes relation, attending to the expressed needs of the other in human encounters. It does not ignore virtue and justice, but its central concept is relation. In education, this means that the expressed needs of students must be considered—not always satisfied, but always included in the teacher’s deliberations. Choice, continuity, and connection are central concepts in the application of care theory to education. In consonance with its emphasis on attention to their expressed needs, care theory recommends listening to students and engaging in discussion to learn about their interests and help them to make intelligent choices. It also suggests that we give more attention to continuity—that is, to the possibility of keeping students and teachers together for more than one year. Similarly, continuity and connection may be increased by encouraging interdisciplinary studies. Finally, care theory emphasizes the need for critical thinking and civility—to educate, not fight, those who may be morally mistaken.