Critical Inquiry

Purpose

The objective of this course was to facilitate the mastery of the core competencies of critical reading and thinking, and information literacy. In this particular seminar for freshman students, they learned how to interrogate their views and beliefs of controversial topics, and analyzed the cogency and resonance of others’ views and beliefs related to topical arguments. Through their own self-interrogations, they concentrated their abilities, and created a solid case to substantiate what they can do. In addition, practicing the core competencies lead to discovery, curiosity and creativity that introduced new understandings, some of which surprised the students. Students frequently practiced (1) identifying main ideas, distinguishing them from supporting ideas, and drawing verifiable conclusions; (2) providing evidence for positions taken, examining the strengths/weaknesses of those positions, as crucial for building the issue's significance; and (3) analyzing and evaluating credibility of information and its sources, and applying the information to the development of a purpose. They created outlines, and wrote essays. Subsequently, they created their own critical analysis strategies, and found themselves using these strategies outside the classroom.

Reflection

Given the departmental objectives (achievement of core competencies), this was my second attempt designing a class. Since these were freshman students, I felt that it was important for the students to have a textbook that had a collection of good (controversial) articles. In that way, students could easily see how their views differed from those of the author's, and thus begin building a critique. The students recognized that critiques did not necessarily mean condemning the author. Instead, the critique was stronger when examining the types of evidence used to construct the argument, and the credibility of the evidence. They realized that some authors used anecdotes that could not be critiqued because the anecdotes demonstrated the author's experience. And debunking the author's experience was tantamount to blaming the author. Thus we focused on understanding the authors' contexts, values, roles and purpose, the norms of the time in which the articles were written, the audience to which the articles were directed, and the structural quality of the arguments. As we did this, we identified flaws in the authors' arguments, and our own, mainly because we underestimated the influential power of context shaping our judgments. In addition, we first surmised that the authors' issues had little to do with our experiences now, but we were misguided. The controversies that these authors spoke of, are the same controversies now cloaked in different circumstances. For example, Harriet Mcbryde Johnson's article "Unspeakable Conversations" centers on the value we place on human lives, when those lives appear unfit for our society, when really our society has not adapted or is inert to change. We are the ones living now that can make changes to place value on ALL lives, including black/brown lives. Instead, we are mired in blame and are distracted from making ourselves better that will create conditions for prosperity. Fundamental attribution errors at their best. And I try to be very conscious of my errors when I teach where I constantly ask my students whether I am underestimating their integrity, or over-estimating their abilities. And they tell me - oh my goodness - subtly to forthright. But I am glad that they do. That they can speak their minds without being judged. I believe their abilities cannot flourish if I don't place value on their existence - they matter. Their lives matter (more than their grades).

Syllabus

This is my syllabus. If you need a copy, please contact me.

Evaluations

These are the evaluations from my students after teaching the class for Spring 2016 and Fall 2016.