The Seminars on Critical Thinking in the 21st Century
Education Institutions today must acknowledge the historical contexts which alter and define their projects. The quality and character of student learning will increasingly depend upon whether or not we are clearly preparing students for the world that they will inhabit during the remaining years of this century. It is our expereince that many of the institutions, and the faculty upon which they depend, that we are familiar with in the United States and in Europe, are not doing that. Instead, they seem to be preparing students for an idealized version of education from the last half of the 20th century, with classrooms that still resemble chapels, where the professor is 'priest,' and with a pedagogy that is informed by monologue, methodological nationalism, and a general lack of awareness of the rapidly changing social and physical worlds that we humans inhabit.
Given the intellectual challenges we see in the 21st century, higher education institutions should take up the project of structuring educational offerings so that they overcome the increase in institutionalized ignorance and ground students' abstract and theoretical knowledge of the world in concrete events rather than the simulacra of the virtual world. Today "critical thinking" is often used to signify the ability to "problem solve." We would argue, however, that it is essential to cultivate the ability to problematize. Whereas problem solving suggests working within the confines of existing structural realities to reduce difficulty or 'make progress', problematizing suggests the ability to reflect upon those realities and question our complicity with them. Failing to equip students to locate and deconstruct assumptions and ideologies that underpin the functioning of the social worlds they exist in is a failure to develop critical thinkers who are able to address the political problems and changes that will define their lives.
Life at seminar is arranged to create a distinct social world of the kind that is often undermined by digital connectivity and the forces of consumerism. We take our lunches and dinners together, and students live in a connected set of apartments. This creates a space conducive to deep reading and reflection, but also to the shared elements of intellectual inquiry. Often the most important discussions will extend into informal activities outside of the classroom, or over meals and afternoon cups of coffee. Students frequently find that they come away from seminars with a strong sense of being part of an ongoing intellectual community which shares in their interests and concerns - even if those relationships are cultivated through healthy debate and disagreement. For more about seminar life, visit our venues pages.
“"Despite the central role technology plays in my life and work, I felt as though I had been given permission to
disconnect; it came as a relief.
I was able to reconnect my
experience of life to the
intellectual and academic
process, and I was focused in a way I haven't been for a long time.
…For me, disconnecting
- seminar participant 2012
The seminars, thus, are rooted in an intentional pedagogical approach.
"In a world in which no one can anticipate the kind of expertise that may be needed tomorrow...Preparing for life' - that perennial, invariable task of all education - must mean first and foremost cultivating the ability to live daily and at peace with uncertainty and ambivalence, with a variety of standpoints and the absence of unerring and trustworthy authorities; must mean instilling tolerance of difference and the will to respect the right to be different;
[it] must mean fortifying critical and self-critical faculties and the courage needed to assume responsibility for one's choices and their consequences; must mean training the capacity for 'changing the frames' and for resisting the temptation to escape from freedom, with the anxiety of indecision it brings alongside the joys of the new and unexplored.
-Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (2001, p. 138)
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