Does western culture really value critical thinking more than other cultures?
December 13, 2011 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Is there any acedemic research on the importance diferent cultures/educational systems place on critical thinking skills?

I was having a converstation with someone who posed the idea that Western cultures/educational systems place more emphasis on critical thinking skills, while other cultures place more emphasis on hard skills. It's an interesting proposal, but seems ethnocentric to base this simply on anecdotal evidence.

I'm really not looking enter into a debate on this, I'm just wondering anyone is aware of any research done on this.
posted by empty vessel to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What do you mean by "hard skills"? Critical thinking is a hard skill to master.

Are you referring to "practical skills" vs. "theoretical skills"? Even there I don't understand the question because a lot of practical skillsets, for example, carpentry, requires the capacity to think critically.
posted by dfriedman at 1:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a decent amount of research out there. Here's a couple of (conflicting) abstracts:

"Despite extensive discussion on critical thinking (CT) by Chinese students, there are still debates over the question of why Chinese higher education students, when studying abroad, lack (or rather do not demonstrate) CT skills. The main objective of this paper is to explore how far it can be established from the published research literature whether the key factor affecting Chinese university students' CT with respect to academic study in English is cultural background or previous training. The conclusion is that culture cannot be the sole explanation for Chinese students' CT performance at universities abroad. The evidence strongly suggests that, while CT elements can indeed be found in ancient Chinese culture, many other factors, especially students' previous learning experiences, are of more immediate relevance and likely to affect performance."

Tian, J. & Low, G. (2011). Critical thinking and Chinese university students: A review of the evidence. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 24(1), 61-76.

"This article provides an explanation for why the Critical Thinking (CT) movement has failed to make significant inroads into the Korean education system, notwithstanding the fact that it addresses and seeks to rectify a widely acknowledged weakness of that system, namely, its over-reliance on teacher-centered instructional methodologies involving rote-memorization. The explanation provided in this article goes beyond standard accounts that focus primarily or exclusively on the role of the university entrance exam in the Korean education system. The explanation offered here identifies the core values implicit in CT pedagogy and shows how those values clash with important features of Korean culture."

McGuire, J. (2007). Why has the critical thinking movement not come to Korea? Asia Pacific Education Review, 8(2), 224-232.
posted by Paragon at 1:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know the literature, but just to clarify the question for dfriedman and others, usually the distinction is between critical thinking as in coming up with novel analyses for open-ended questions vs. being able to reproduce technically complicated but pre-scripted solutions. (Although I admit I haven't often heard the latter described as "hard skills," so I see why defriedman might be confused.) E.g., "what is the best way to let people commute across this big river?" vs. "what is the static load on this particular beam?"
posted by d. z. wang at 3:27 PM on December 13, 2011

Best answer: Is critical thinking the same in all cultures?

There's a great volume from the early 80's in philosophy of social science. It covers several facets of debates surrounding the cultural variability of rationality, or what it makes sense to do/say/think in a given culture. Bryan Wilson, ed. Rationality.

More specifically, it addresses the problem of how person in culture X can interpret the beliefs/practices of person in culture Y, when X and Y employ different rationalities.
posted by reverend cuttle at 7:31 AM on December 14, 2011

Response by poster: @dfriedman - I was refering to "hard skills" maybe "concrete skills" like mathematics, reading, wrtiting vs "critical thinking" being able to analyze what one is reading, when to apply what mathematical equations, drawing conclusions from a certian data set.

Thanks for the answers so far!
posted by empty vessel at 7:59 AM on December 14, 2011

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