Thursday, June 13, 2013

Critical Thinking: It’s not just a river in Egypt . . .

The Air Force’s intermediate school of professional military education, Air Command & Staff College, is peddling a lesson on critical thinking (alas, not online; a friend passed me his notes in pdf, which I will share if you email me):


This lesson provides an explanation of the cognitive skills, concepts, and meta-cognitive processes that are fundamental to critical thinking. Content in this lesson is delivered via video lecture and multi-media presentations that will lead students to an understanding of why critical thinking is important to military leaders and post-graduate students alike. It also answers the question: “What is critical thinking?” and describes the common obstacles to clear critical thinking.


1. Explain the function of each of the six critical thinking skills: Analysis, Interpretation, Inference, Evaluation, Explanation, and Self-Regulation.

2. Comprehend how prejudice, bias, racism, ethnocentrism, and belief preservation are obstacles to critical thinking.

3. Comprehend the difference between statements of fact and opinion.

Oh boy.  I know for a fact that this module is new in the last 10 years.  Because obviously, increasing bias, racism, and ethnocentrism among college educated people are the real problems requiring yet even more lecturing against.


This section is an excerpt from Lewis Vaughn’s, The Power of Critical Thinking

Lewis Vaughn writes:

Group pressure often leads to prejudice, bias, and racism. (To a lesser extent, so does self- interest.) But what do these terms mean?

Prejudice in its broadest sense is a judgment or opinion—whether positive or negative—based on insufficient reasons. But usually the term is used in a more narrow way to mean a negative, or adverse, belief (most often about people) without sufficient reasons. At the heart of prejudice, then, is a failure of critical thinking. And the use of critical thinking is an important part of eradicating prejudiced views.

Bias is another word for prejudice, both in the general and the narrow sense. Sometimes the word is also used to mean an inclination of temperament or outlook—as in "My bias is in favor of tougher laws."

Racism is a lack of respect for the value and rights of people of different races or geographical origins. Usually this attitude is based on prejudice—specifically an unjustified belief that one group of people is somehow superior to another.29

[Ethnocentrism is] the pressure that comes from presuming that our own group is the best, the right one, the chosen one, and all other groups are, well, not as good. … The assumption that your group is better than others is at the heart of prejudice. This we-are-better pressure is probably the most powerful of all. We all have certain beliefs not because we have thought critically about them but because our parents raised us to believe them or because the conceptual push and pull of our social group has instilled them in us. That is, we may believe what we believe—and assume that our beliefs are better than anyone else’s—because we were born into a family or society that maintains such views.30

Group thinking can also easily generate narrow-mindedness, resistance to change, and stereotyping.

A stereotype [is]—an unwarranted conclusion…about an entire group of people. To stereotype someone is to judge [him or] her not as an individual, but as part of a group whose members are thought to be all alike. … Stereotypes abound about men and women and probably every known ethnic group.31

Notice how the definition of stereotype confounds two separate issues:  whether or not a conclusion about a group of people is unwarranted (i.e., “not true”, I think) and how a conclusion about a group is applied to its individual members.


To better understand the range of ethnocentrism and its impact on human behavior, critical thinking, and cross-cultural relations, examine the continuum below. It was adapted from a chart developed by Dr. James Neuliep32:


Now the author is just making stuff up.  He wants to preserve the positive connotations of “patriotism”, so he simply asserts that it implies “low ethnocentrism”, whereas thinking your team is “best” inevitably means genocide.


Biases and prejudices are difficult to overcome, especially when they emerge as unconscious assumptions.  Unconsciously held assumptions are beliefs that are rarely questioned and generally accepted as “the way things are.” These “tendencies and assumptions and reflexes,” as Hofstede described them, come to us via our communities and, in a larger sense, our cultures.33 A good example of a prejudicial assumption that was prevalent in the past was that all women were terrible drivers. This type of prejudice is also a stereotype. Another example of a gender
stereotype comes to us from the realm of classical music. In the not-so-distant past, female musicians were generally considered to be inferior to their male counterparts. In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explains how a simple change in the audition process for major orchestras altered the way maestros viewed their musicians and dramatically transformed America’s symphony orchestras.34

Keep in mind that an assumption is not necessarily biased or prejudicial. In fact, all reasoning rests upon the formation of assumptions. The key to keeping our assumptions free of bias is self-regulation.

With the usual caveat that it is silly to argue about definitions, and with the admission that the lesson's author’s definitions are consistent with the dictionary, I would like to suggest alternative definitions in apparent search for their own words.  Until then, I will use the words above.

Stereotype: The observation or apprehension of mean population differences in character or aptitude.

Prejudice:  The attribution of group mean characteristics to individuals in that group. This does not require believing that all group members are alike. But that’s the way to bet.

Bias:  a systematic as opposed to a random distortion of a statistic as a result of sampling procedure.  (This is definition #3 in

Ethnocentrism:  The belief that costs and benefits to one’s own ethny, however defined, should be the dominant consideration.  No claim to superiority is implied.

Racism:  you can have this one.

As revealed in the next lesson, ACSC is at least semi-aware of the straw-man they are creating.  Stay tuned for Monday's post . . .


Anonymous said...

Racism...specifically an unjustified belief that one group of people is somehow superior to another.

So a Justified belief isn't racism. Good to know.

Dr. Φ said...

Hale: a good point, but not one I want to fight over. Even I don't believe that one race is "superior" to another in a metaphysical sense.

Anonymous said...

You could always buy into the circular reasoning that ANY argument that one race is superior to another is unjustified.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Wow. Kinda goes to my post the other day about liberalist capture of government institutions. Seems they have the civilian side of the Pentagon--and the mil side soon--fully in their grips, now.

"Prejudice in its broadest sense is a judgment or opinion—whether positive or negative—based on insufficient reasons."

I rather like Walter Williams' take on that it is "cheap information" about the behavior of a person or group and about whom acquiring more accurate, non-pre-judged information may be too expensive.

"Expensive" of course meaning not only money, but loss of property or potential injury or death.

Thus when one crosses the street rather than walk past a group of saggy-panted yoots, is one being prejudiced? Prudent? Or both?

Dexter said...

Ha. Yet more proof that whenever the term "critical thinking" is used, it means "uncritical belief in Leftist dogma, and the ability to react unthinkingly in accordance with it".

2. Comprehend how prejudice, bias, racism, ethnocentrism, and belief preservation are obstacles to critical thinking.

3. Comprehend the difference between statements of fact and opinion.

Why yes, I do comprehend the difference between statements of fact and opinion. For example, the statement that "prejudice, bias, racism, ethnocentrism, and belief preservation are obstacles to critical thinking" is a statement of opinion.