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Open-minded inquiry

Helping Students Assess Their Thinking

by William Hare


Abstract

This is a brief guide to the ideal of open-minded inquiry by way of a survey of related notions. Making special reference to the educational context, the aim is to offer teachers an insight into what it would mean for their work to be influenced by this ideal, and to lead students to a deeper appreciation of open-minded inquiry. From assumptions to zealotry, the glossary provides an account of a wide range of concepts in this family of ideas, reflecting a concern and a connection throughout with the central concept of open-mindedness itself. An intricate network of relationships is uncovered that reveals the richness of this ideal; and many confusions and misunderstandings that hinder a proper appreciation of open-mindedness are identified.

Introduction

Many people would agree with John Dewey and Bertrand Russell that open-mindedness is one of the fundamental aims of education, always elusive but eminently worth pursuing. For Dewey, it is the childlike attitude of wonder and interest in new ideas coupled with a determination to have one's beliefs properly grounded; and it is vitally important because we live in a world that is characterized by constant change. For Russell, open-mindedness is the virtue that prevents habit and desire from making us unable or unwilling to entertain the idea that earlier beliefs may have to be revised or abandoned; its main value lies in challenging the fanaticism that comes from a conviction that our views are absolutely certain. A review of certain key ideas provides a clearer sense of the dimensions of the ideal of open-mindedness for all those who are determined to make this aim central to their work as teachers. What follows is a road map to the terrain which surrounds the idea of open-minded inquiry.

Glossary

Assumptions: Always potentially problematic when they remain invisible. Not being properly aware of the beliefs we take for granted, we are in no position to consider what is to be said for or against them. What we presuppose about the abilities of our students, about what is worth learning in our subject, about the nature of knowledge, about the teacher/student relationship, about suitable pedagogical strategies, and so on, affects our decisions as teachers, but these ideas escape our scrutiny. The open-minded teacher tries to uncover such ruling prepossessions, as Dewey calls them, and subject them to critical examination. Hidden assumptions of this kind are not, of course, to be confused with assumptions we consciously make in order to see what follows if they are regarded as true.

Bias: Often mistakenly equated with simply having an opinion or a...

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