What should a good school be? In this conversation between Carlo Crosato and pedagogue Massimo Baldacci, professor of General Pedagogy at the Carlo Bo University of Urbino, we address the question of how to form mental habits of a critical nature that go hand in hand with a scientific attitude and the adoption of a democratic spirit.
Here is a summary of the conversation:
We talk a lot about the importance, for our times, of critical thinking training. And there are those who begin to design courses dedicated to the subject. But is critical thinking a subject? Is it something that can be taught through the illustration of models of thinking?
If we consider some models of thinking, we can realize, as a first thing, how enclosing critical thinking within the confines of an application model is limiting. First of all because each model has its own limits; but then also because critical thinking is thinking in a certain sense free: binding it to a precise algorithm would be decidedly contradictory. [..]
So the hope of organizing critical thinking, and therefore its teaching, around the center of a single operating paradigm must be dashed. What are the perspectives that allow us to get out of this problem?
I think this debate has taken a very interesting step with the concept, raised in particular by Brandom, of the space of reasons: what matters is that an assertion is situated within a space of reasons, within which it is possible to screen both the authorizations of that assertion and the consequences and commitments to which that assertion gives rise. And I find this position interesting, because it allows for a dilation of the action of critical thinking, making it clear how critical thinking cannot be closed into a single model. We thus enter a dimension that I like to call “pan-critical”, in which it is perceptible the contradiction of trying to assume as the foundation of critical thinking education a particular and determined model, a protocol or an algorithm, as if it were possible to identify a series of logical steps to be taught to those who want to learn the use of critical thinking. That would be a poor solution to critical thinking education. [..]
One would have to think of an entire school context pervaded by the spirit of critical thinking.
An important pedagogue, Lamberto Borghi, spoke of the school as a community of free doubters. I believe that this is the guideline to which we should still give strength today: cultivating the school as a community of free doubters, where there is a spirit of free, open, tolerant, rich discussion on all issues. One can also imagine which formative strategy – and there are several – is the most desirable, but what is important is that each of these strategies finds its own meaning only by keeping as a background this context of critical spirit and this process of forming the critical spirit in an indirect way. A community of free people is a democratic community: I think that this of the school as a democratic community is the true fertile ground in which our projects can mature. [..]
Isn’t there some danger in spreading horizontal and universal doubt? Shouldn’t we put up barriers, at least in the early stages, so that critical thinking doesn’t turn into a skepticism that is as arbitrary as it is superficial?
Indeed. With Kant, but also with Antonio Banfi, we must admit that one of the prerogatives of critical thought is to consistently question even itself. Therefore, for a problematic pedagogical thinking, it is necessary to question also the education to critical thinking. In this sense, it has been observed, for example, that there are conditions of possibility of education to critical thinking, which we cannot consider automatically existing. In particular, it is undoubtedly necessary that the subject of education, the student, has reached the maturation of a certain level of rational resources. [..]
This will then affect the life of the community in which the student will live.
Mental habits of a critical nature go hand in hand with a scientific attitude, which is an indispensable component of the democratic spirit: a school that forms a critical attitude is a school that forms a democratic attitude. Forming the critical spirit and forming the democratic spirit must be two sides of the same coin: a school that is a democratic community and a community of free doubters really seems to me to be the good school. [..]