[ Question ]

Asking for help teaching a critical thinking class.

by Brangus 1 min read7th Mar 20199 comments


I will soon be teaching a "critical thinking" class for undergraduates. Feel free to mentally replace "critical thinking" with "epistemic virtue". I would appreciate answers to any of these questions:

What would you do if you only had one three hour class period to teach a group of 15-30 undergrads "critical thinking"?

If you know me (Ronny Fernandez) what one educational objective would you give me, knowing it will not be my only one, to come up with a plan to achieve?

How would you given three hours or less make it so that 15-30 students are all absolutely sure of something, and then realize they were all wrong, without feeling like them feeling like you had cheated or done anything shady?

What are the most transferable rationality skills that are abundant in our community and rare elsewhere and how do you transfer them in a classroom setting?

How do you teach the things in the vicinity of scout mindset vs warrior mindset, arguments as soldiers, politics is the mind killer, without making your student temporarily dumber by giving them a fully general excuse to not engage with any disagreement they feel like ignoring?

How do you teach the difference between the kind of cognition you use to figure out how to get to your friends house and the kind of cognition Malfoy used in hpmor to think about the heritability of magic?

How do you teach the virtue of lightness, the virtue of curiosity?

How do you teach fallacies and cognitive biases without making your students temporarily dumber by giving them a fully general excuse to disregard any position or thinker they disagree with?

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1 Answers

If you have a three hour one-shot, then I would be strongly inclined to focus on as few things as possible, while still pointing to the shape of the skillset. I expect the central challenge will be getting them to internalize the idea that different ways of thinking even exist. I would break it down into three things, which can each occupy ~1 hour:

  • Demonstrate how they way they think right now is wrong, via a cognitive bias.
  • Demonstrate a specific technique for overcoming that bias.
  • Argue that reality in fact has joints, and they can in fact be cleaved. Preferably with examples.

I expect the best results will come from hammering on the notion that thinking is a thing you can do on purpose, doing it by reflex leads to predictably wrong answers in a lot of cases, and doing it better is possible. If the choice of bias and technique for overcoming it is something they can immediately apply, so much the better.