Prisoners of The Blob – critical thinking skills

I started reading Toby Young’s Civitas paper ‘Prisoners of the Blob – Why most education experts are wrong about nearly everything‘, got to page 10, which is the end of the section on modern approaches to teaching of History…and started thinking about what is critical thinking, and what transferable skills are required, in the context of my work.

I need to be able to analyse a situation, working out the connectives and deducing what the consequences of this analysis is in the context of the issue being considered. To do this, it is necessary to know the knowledge framework in which the issue resides; and be familiar enough with it to think confidently, make connections and weigh evidence – then seek additional or supporting evidence. If the framework of knowledge is close enough to any currently familiar frameworks of knowledge, then a working understanding can be arrived at relatively quickly by reading around or finding a review to read.

However, most frameworks will be too far away from any currently familiar frameworks and the help of an expert will be required (and even then this may be a stretch too far). Professionally, I’d better be pretty sure I grasp a framework of understanding well before attempting to solve issues within it….

So, can this approach (making connections, recognising the need to understand the framework of understanding – knowing when you don’t know enough to be lucid), be taught?

I think it is clear that considering these issues in the abstract is difficult and unlikely to be useful for children (?). The skills are meta, they emerge over time when a lot of studying has been undertaken, I think. Now, when I am looking for additional colleagues, I need them, for example, to know what a mathematical equation is, to be able to use one to generate output when given input. I am not looking for someone who necessarily knows a specific set of equations well, but they must know a closely related framework of knowledge well – so that they can cross over into the ones I work with. They can only be in this position if they have accumulated and understood significant domain knowledge.

Now, I know what this means in Chemistry. A candidate who knows Chemistry only through a knowledge of the biographies of the great Chemists would be very interesting to talk to, but I would be unlikely to hire them – likewise, a student of History and Philosophy of Science would be unlikely to be offered a job by me.

What about modern approaches to teaching History? Well, I don’t know enough domain knowledge in History to know what History teaching should look like!


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