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Pseudo Critical Thinking in the Educational Establishment

A Case Study in Educational Malpractice


Unfortunately, there is not simply good and bad thinking in the world, both easily recognized as such. There is also bad thinking that appears to be good and therefore wrongfully, sometimes disastrously, used as the basis of very important decisions. Very often this “bad thinking” is defended and “rationalized” in a highly sophisticated fashion. However flawed, it successfully counterfeits good thinking, and otherwise intelligent people are taken in. Such thinking is found in every dimension of human life and in every dimension it does harm; in every dimension it works against human well-being. Very often it is generated in a structural way, as a likely or probable by-product of how we have arranged and ordered things. This is illustrated in the American educational establishment.

The manner in which it is structured and operates makes likely the continuous generation of more bad, albeit highly sophisticated, thinking: pseudo-critical thinking, in short. However, because the educational bureaucracy is a powerful shaping force in education, bad thinking at the bureaucratic level leads directly to bad teaching at the classroom level.

In this chapter, Paul illustrates this destructive pattern using the California Department of Education (as his model of educational bureaucracy at work) and the new California State Reading and Writing Assessment instrument (as the resultant bad practice). He argues that this poorly designed assessment tool leads directly to bad teaching practices and the exacerbation of a profound problem in instruction: the failure to teach students to reason well in every subject they study. If the educational bureaucracy doesn’t understand what reasoning is and how to assess it in reading and writing, argues Paul, is it likely that higher order reading and writing will be taught? No, he claims. And thus the educational bureaucracy creates...

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