A recent book (‘Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities’) by the notable US philosopher Martha Nussbaum stresses that critical thinking should be central to education in democratic societies. Chapter 4 of her book deals with what she refers to as ‘the importance of argument’ in effective teaching. She writes about the value of focusing on ‘the child’s ability to understand the logical structure of an argument, to detect bad reasoning, (and) to challenge ambiguity.’ In other words, getting students to think critically is hugely valuable in education.
The title of Professor Nussbaum’s book highlights her concern with what she calls a ‘worldwide crisis in education’ in which economic growth is seen as its main purpose. The consequent shifting of focus away from the humanities and the arts is something that she greatly regrets. Of course, the issue of thinking critically is very much central to scientific education, but her point about the role of the humanities and the arts needs to be addressed. It goes to the heart of the question of what education is for.
Her stress on the huge educational (and thus social) significance of developing critically thinking students is, indeed, very timely.