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Opinions Sun, 2 Feb 2014

The Power of Critical Thinking(l)

“I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do…Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill (Howard Gardner).”
Critical thinking is a potent weapon for transforming society and individual human lives. In fact, critical thinking could potentially make de-linkage of theory from praxis a material reality. Let’s not overstate its merits, however, for it can make and unmake societies and individuals for better or for worse. Eugenics, Apartheid, Nazism, bigotry, and scientific racism are creative products of critical thinking, so, too, are disease prevention, philanthropy, music, hygiene, poetry, dance, and unity. Namely, the classical music of Chevalier de Saint-George, the so-called Black Mozart, and the poetic imagism of Wole Soyinka have romantically assuaged the aural and psychological estrous of human curiosity down the years. Alternatively, we are also cognizant of how scientific racism made the lives of Hereros, Namaquas, African- and Native-Americans, Romas, and Jews a living hell.
The concept of rational choice theory may be useful in this direction. Therefore, it remains a heavy moral burden on society and individuals to carefully choose which of the dual directions of critical thinking to pursue. Do Akans want to use critical thinking to suppress the electoral franchise, cultural socialization, and economic expression of non-Akans? Do militant Hutus want to use critical thinking to make Tutsis and moderate Hutus stateless or vice versa? Do Boko Haram and Al-Shabab want to use critical thinking to alchemize nation-state into city-state or statelessness? What is critical thinking? Isn’t thinking a normal human process? What separates critical thinking from thinking? Is critical thinking racial, ethnic, cultural, spiritual, or genetic? Can it be taught? How do we teach it if it can be taught? Is critical thinking a modern or pre-modern concept? Let’s reject the latter as it exists only in Eurocentric imaginations!
Wasn’t critical thinking part of ancient Egyptian educational system where priest-students entered universities and graduated after four decades of active study? Could the societal skyscraper of ancient Egyptian civilization have been erected without the foundational dynamics of critical thinking? To wit, Egyptian mathematics, mensuration, philosophy, science, statecraft, education, cosmology, and religion demonstrate a sophistication of critical thinking on every step of the ziggurat of Egyptian society. That is to say, critical thinking has always been integral to human evolution, psychologism, and intellection, past and present, irrespective of geography. Generally, African life itself is littered with exemplars of critical thinking.
Meanwhile, Kwame Anthony Appiah’s deconstructionist critique of African Religion deprives it of critical thinking though his reservations are equally typical of Scientology, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhism, Judaism, Shintoism, Taoism, Islam, or Anabaptism (Amish and Mennonites). Then again, the late Joseph Campbell, a mythologist, demonstrated how elements of critical thinking dangled behind esoteric cultural motifs and symbols. Further, Marcel Griaule’s conversations with Ogotemmeli, the famed Dogon sage and religious philosopher, expand our understanding as well as add to our storied storehouse of critical thinking in the context of African Religion. Yet again, Ron Eglash, a well-known cyberneticist, mathematician, and professor in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Science and Technology Studies, situated in Troy, New York, has unraveled an entire system of critical thinking behind African fractals.
In fact, Soyinka’s “Myth, Literature and the African World,” a vigorously literarized defense of African thought, achieves the same height of corrective affirmation as Eglash’s. In other words, an assortment of scholars, African and non-African, has assembled carefully-molded mountains of evidence questioning Eurocentrism’s abjuration of any scientific ascription of critical thinking to the African world, for, among other achievements, these scholars have succeeded in finally overturning Western tendentious reinterpretation of the African as a clueless ontological totality, particularly, more so, with the African world, otherwise draped in the sartorial Westernity of phenomenological exclusiveness, tied to a surfeit of emotion and spirituality, yet, curiously, severed from the cranial concreteness of rationality. Let’s be mindful of the fact that we are not dealing with the infamous apothegmatic Senghorian equation here, however.
In another context, Western obsession with obese African spirituality and overblown African emotionalism, technically, drove Theophile Obenga to subject ancient Egyptian philosophical papyri, a system of ancient African thought which formed the foundational statehood of Western thought, to another vigorous line of exegetical reformulation, a scientific project aimed at divesting ancient African philosophical thought of Western emotional and intellectual biases. Interestingly so, Obenga, too, noticed the DNA fingerprint of critical thinking waltzing behind the esoteric door of ancient African thought (See “African Philosophy: The Pharaonic Period, 2780-330 BC”). Yet, the reason the African world does seem to pride herself on the abnegation of Afrocentric thinking, videlicet, in respect of critical thinking, is ascribable, consciously or unconsciously, to cultural metastasis of Eurocentrism in the body politic. That is, Eurocentrism underwrites the claustrophobic cushioning of critical-thinking capabilities of the African world.
In addition, continued reliance of the African world on and her blind allegiance to the West and Asia is also a major part of the problem, the ostensible awayness or absence of critical thinking in today’s African leadership, since she, like a joey’s physiological attachment to a marsupium, has grown to see the West and Asia exclusively as embodiment of practical solutions capable of addressing her chronic problems. Otherwise what is the need for the African world to think critically for practical solutions when the said practical solutions themselves are already there, there in the groin of the West and in the axilla of Asia? In other words, wouldn’t critical thinking on the part of Africans make the African world lazy? It does not make an atom of creative sense! Thus, on the one hand, we believe, quite generally, that critical thinking is best appreciated if evaluated from the standpoint of political and economic autonomy.
Of course, globalization and interdependence would seem to oppugn our moral arguments in the other direction, in the Hegelian direction of Eurocentrism. Ironically, it is the case that the West and Asia hardly can survive without Africa’s natural wealth and humanity, while, Africa, in turn, hardly can survive, though seemingly, without the West and Asia, especially regarding the scientification, technologization, and monetization of her societies. This is not a generally true proposition. That is beside the point, however. Still, no African, living or dead, has framed the cultural imperative of critical thinking in the context of Africa’s development and growth better than Molefi Kete Asante (See “The Afrocentric Idea,” “Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change,” “Kemet, Afrocentricity, and Knowledge”), Marcus Garvey (See Amy J. Garvey’s “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” and Kwame Nkrumah (See “Consciencism”) have.
That is why these men, those of their ideological ilk, and their progressive ideas should be squarely written into the progressively-rounded curricula of our newly-proposed educational system. Now let’s define it: Critical thinking “is that mode of thinking, about subject, content, or problem, in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism (See the website of the “Foundation for Critical Thinking”). Take inventory of the concepts “sociocentrism” and “egocentrism,” for they are supremely important to political stability, as they have defined the fiery source of ethnic, racial, and religious antagonism in many a polity.
Having said that, let’s pose another related question: Who is a critical thinker? A critical thinker advertises the following qualities: 1). Is open-mined, 2). Desires to be, and is, well-informed, 3). Judges well the credibility of sources, 4). Identifies reasons, assumptions, and conclusions, 4). Asks appropriate clarifying questions, 5). Judges well the quality of an argument, including its reasons, assumptions, evidence, and their degree of support for the conclusion, 7). Can well develop and defend a reasonable position regarding a belief or an action, doing justice to challenges, 8). Formulates plausible hypothesis, 9). Plans and conducts experiments well, 10). Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context, 11). Draws conclusions when appropriate-but with caution and 12). Integrates all of the above aspects of critical thinking (See criticalthinking.net). Thus, taken together, these systematized qualities constitute a scientific definition of critical thinking.
But then, elsewhere, as here, we shall have to recall Dr. Chandra Kant Raju’s castigation of scientists who merely deploy “hypothesis” as a political ploy, as a replacement for scientific lies, shams, or failures. That said, let’s begin to look at the broader questions. Clearly, from the first definition we are afforded the opportunity to appreciate the orthographic frequency of compound words featuring the prefix “self.” This has useful signification contiguous with a sense of cognitive individuation. Still, this conclusion does not explicitly foreclose analytic considerations for group cognition. Group cognition (collective intelligence) has been identified as one of the innovative drivers of scientific and technological breakthroughs. Ideally, that is also why exposing students to in-class experimentation, namely, a form of didactic socialization patterned after group psychodynamics during their formative evolution, is such an important development.
Thus, setting up students, particularly school-going children, in small groups where each is taught to manage or work on creative projects can be developmentally and psychologically fulfilling. Let’s be careful here! We are not arguing for in-class group formations along strict emotional pathways of ethnicized cleavages. Again, we have already belabored Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” and Molefi Kete Asante’s “The Asante Principles for the Afrocentric Curriculum” elsewhere. Accordingly, granted close familiarity with Asante’s and Gardner’s pedagogical models, we argue that it’s society’s bounded duty to bypass any attempts at formalized conceptualization of science, mathematics, reading and comprehension as the only pedagogical frames of educational reference. On one level, this is materially, philosophically, and spiritually indispensable. Consequently, let’s try to avoid tinkering with the intellectual complexity of this moral question if we indeed can.
On another level, such is elitist agnosy. Society could simply do better than that, beyond provincial elitism! In fact, the curriculum of the new education should embrace close examination of elitist agnoiology as well as of what should be done to burke it. This calls for didactic diversity in terms of knowledge transmission. Intellectual cosmopolitanism is the objective here. Theater (dramatics, play), poetry readings, numeral literacy, dance, word recognition, multicultural studies, deductive and logical reasoning, quantity discrimination, geography and appreciation of spatial patterns, musical composition and performance, oral counting, computer literacy, kinesthetic appreciation, number identification, self-knowledge, physical education, and ability to understand others are concepts the new education should make readily available to students right from the beginning of formal education, but delivered in modules according to age-specific preferences.
On the other hand, this imposes a collateral demand on society in the shape of comprehensive revision of the old educational system: The political economy of community. Yet “community” is an assembly line of cultures, human brains, spirituality, traditions and customs, families, procreation, accumulated knowledge, ancestors, and the like! In other words, education as a form of “community” should entail the active participation of a child’s immediate family, ward, foster home, extended family, adoptive parents, as well as of individual educational researchers, institutional centers for education research, school psychologists, education reformers, sociologists, think tanks, representatives of ministries of education, and patrons of educational institutions, in the radical implementation of Afrocentric pedagogy and instructional technologies. More pointedly, the new education could be framed as social education where community, health education, interpersonal socialization, and communication shadows the ideological chaperonage of Afrocentric didactics.
Meanwhile, the role of educational reformers and educational research institutions in the radical implementation of the new educational paradigm is varied: Data collection, effectiveness assessment of instructional technologies, confirming the reliability of data, effective interpretation of data, regular progress monitoring of teachers and students, institutional provision of data-specific feedback to and between teachers and students, and skills analysis should be used to gauge the success or effectiveness of the new education. In practice, oral and written examinations, individual in-class presentations (public speaking), group in-class assignments, reading homework assignments directly culled from newspaper articles, short written essays based on the latter, assigning individual students and groups to relevant science projects with special emphasis on and direct applications to African problems, and involving computers (laboratory simulations) in some of these learning activities should be integral to the routinized enterprise of studiousness.
Furthermore, the use of textbooks with portraits or pictures of ordinary Ghanaian/African citizens who have excelled in the sciences, engineering, theatre, sports, politics, film, architecture, photography, literature, music, painting, sculpture, mathematics, poetry, philanthropy, dance, fashion, and entrepreneurship must be encouraged or promoted in the African classroom. Also, we should not desist from occasionally inviting some of our great men and women into the African classroom to share their successes and failures with students: Ama Ata Aidoo, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, CK Mann, Azumah Nelson, Hugh Masekela, Ama Mazama, Ave Kludze, Ayi Kwei Armah, Sarkodie, Oppong Weah, Patience Mthunzi, Angelique Kidjo, Abedi Pele, Molefi Kete Asante, Desmond Tutu, Maulana Karenga, Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu, Toni Morrison, to name a few, is not such a bad idea after all.
Let’s consider another cultural dimension of critical thinking. “A crab,” they say, “does not sire a bird, neither does an alligator sire a crocodile.” This also means the human mouth or human mind does not simply sire the lower end of the alimentary canal. Sadly, Eurocentrism has succeeding in alchemizing the African mind into the lower end of the alimentary canal. This is where parents come in. That is, we argue that “true” education begins in the home. Besides, formal education cannot teach the child everything. Parents need to help their children with their homework assignments. Parents need to attend the poetry readings and dramatics of their children. Parents need to teach their children good morals. Parents need to monitor which television programs their children watch. Parents need to make sure their children eat well and have adequate sleep. Parents need to be aware of what kinds of friendship their children make.
Parents need to teach their children to love themselves, for Asante has invoked an ancestral wisdom: “The sages said that the only chosen people were self-choosing people.” Asante has also brought to our attention a disturbing article, titled “African Fertility Clinic Encourages Couples To Have Bi-racial Babies” and authored by Daphne R, which says in part: “Skin complexion is an issue for people of color all over the world and in Ghana, there’s a new business that is on a mission to breed what they call ‘half-caste’ babies for a better Africa.” The architects of Apartheid, Adolf Hitler, and dead American eugenicists must be turning in their graves after digesting this piece of psychological excreta. Why do we prefer to use human arm or the lower end of the alimentary canal, rather than human head, as our thinking jukebox? “The strength of your arm can never give you prosperity,” an Igwe advises one of his sons on his sick bed, a scene portrayed in a Nigerian epic film “Last Ofalla,” adding: “But rather it’s the strength of the head that will give you prosperity.”
What is wrong with our heads? The article continues: “Half-caste World is founded to transform Africa into the land of riches and beauty, the land of every man’s dream.” What kind of a dislocated mindset will conceive this fecal idea? First, wrinkled old European women, long abandoned by their kind, went to Africa in the 1990s in search of black male prostitutes, now it’s “Half-caste World.” What? Don’t we need cutting-edge scientific laboratories anymore? Don’t we need cutting-edge technologies to help us deal with diseases, poverty, ignorance, desertification, famine, drought, and low agricultural productivity? Don’t we need cutting-edge psychiatric facilities to treat patients like Augustine N.K. Boateng, the alleged founder of “Half-caste World”? Need we pursue this madness in depth? If not, then let’s shun this Eurocentric madness and get down to serious matters.
Finally, our literature should represent a seamless diversity of educational platforms, themes or subject matter, cultures, literary techniques, etc. Alexander Pushkin, Lao Tsu, William Faulkner, Abdias do Nascimento, Khalil Gibran, Machado de Assis, Shakespeare, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Freire, Ernest Hemmingway, Octavio Paz, Fyodor Dostoyevesky, Emily Bronte, James Joyce, Carlos Fuentes, William Wordsworth, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Noam Chomsky, and Charles Dickens, plus all canonized writers of people of African descent. But we should always remember one important thing, that the psychocultural distance of Shakespeare and other writers from contemporary exigencies of Africa’s social, spiritual, economic, and material realities, require that we pay closer attention to the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Ama Mazama, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, Nuruddin Farah, Derek Walcott, Ayi Kwei Armah, Walter Rodney, Molefi Kete Asante, Ama Ata Aidoo, Wole Soyinka, and what have you!
Are we done yet? Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro,” Countee Cullen’s “Heritage,” and Kola Boof’s “The Proof: What is Authentic Blackness” represent a motley aggregation of identity crises of a racial or ethnic nature. Cullen writes: “What is Africa to me…Quaint, outlandish heathen gods. Black men fashion out of rods. Clay, and brittle bits of stone. In a likeness like their own. My conversion came high-priced; I belong to Jesus Christ, Preacher of humility; Heathen gods are naught to me…Not yet has my heart or head in the least realized they and I civilized.” Cullen has boldly declared his ambiguous stand. The question, however, is this: How does one claim to be as civilized as a jungle people whose gods one rejects as heathen only to turn around and embrace the foreign god of one’s slave master, a god in whose name one was enslaved? The new education should resolve this dilemma!
“The platform for our victory must be based on a construction of our own making,” says Asante.
We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis