I am now a third of the way through my classroom observations and have done half of the interviews with students. I would have done over half but when transcribing this morning, one of the sound files had corrupted and may be lost forever. So instead of sobbing I thought I’d have a moment to reflect. In the last few weeks I have suddenly stopped reading, writing and thinking and am just doing. Doing interviews and doing transcription. All that ‘doing’ has made me feel very productive, though, in typical grass is always greener fashion, I want to be doing something else. Something more exciting - some more thinking - you know, real PhD stuff.Though of course my mind is buzzing as I transcribe with ‘I really think that links to this’ or ‘I’m so glad they said that’ or ‘I wonder how I could think about that’. But I feel like I want to rush through it, get the transcriptions over, move on to something more interesting. Give my fingers a rest too from all that typing! [Though in typing I keep looking down at my new engagement ring and smiling]
Anyway, I thought I’d set down a few things that seem to be emerging from the data:
-There seems to be a relationship between ideas around critical thinking and left politics. Critical thinking emerges as a moral discourse within higher education of the ‘right’ academic way to be. Yet this’ way to be’ is not seen as problematic - it appears neutral. It is also morally regulated around left or liberal ideas - concepts such as being ‘liberal’ or ‘open’ or ‘democratic’ and using criticality to understand the roots of injustice or discrimination.
- Critical thinking is linked positively to freedom, to peace, to empowerment. It is an exciting way of being, a new way to see the world. Even something that physically changes you for the better ‘a film over your brain’ where you no longer see the same. Yet at the same time it is also associated negatively with being a burden, a nuisance, a killjoy. Interestingly criticality seems to work along a spectrum where on one side it can make you more open minded but on the other you become so critical of the ideas of others that you retreat into your own set ideas and become closed-minded. Students appear to be stepping on to a kind of affective tightrope over how critical they should be. I am hoping to incorporate some of Berlant’s work on cruel optimism to look at how this spectrum plays out, especially what it means for students to be optimistic about their critical thinking in a future which Berlant would argue, may not be realised in the way they hope.
- There are all sorts of things that seem to shape what critical thinking is and does.There are clear disciplinary differences between how critical thinking is taught and understood. For example, in one cohort, critical thinking is seen as an add-on process to data or knowledge , reflecting a need in that professional discipline to be able to differentiate between facts and opinion.The idea of critical thinking as a social practice comes to mind here.
- The language of critical thinking also seems to shape what critical thinking can do. In one powerful statement, one student talks about critical thinking as giving her ammunition to go back and deal with previous encounters in her life where she felt she was being talked over and duped by others. She saw the ability to think critically as a language and way of being that gave her power where she’d felt powerless.
Even as rough first thoughts on the data, I can already see there is so much to say and to think about. At the same time I have a productive anxiety about ‘are you just pointing out the bloody obvious Emily?’ I suspect that’s normal and something to be worked on! But I’m feeling hopeful about the rest of the data collection. Talking of which, I’m off to class…