Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Symposium November 2 - 4, 2016 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada


"Critical thinking," is widely celebrated as a "soft" employability skill, like the communications and human relations capabilities deemed essential for work in the precarious twenty-first- century. We are told it enhances problem-solving skills and contributes to employee flexibility in the competitive global economy. Intellectually, critical thinking derives from the European Enlightenment. It favours the “scientific method,” strives for conceptual clarity and evidence- based statements. It eschews “bias” in all its forms. It opposes metaphysics and historicism, is critical of sentimental romanticism and authoritarian demagoguery, and seeks to purge “ideology” from public discourse. “Critical pedagogy” also criticizes ideology, but differently. It interrogates power and authority in the interest of human emancipation. Inspired by non- revolutionary anarchism and mild-mannered Marxism, it opposes the technocratic reasoning implicit in critical thinking. Regarding education as both a moral and a political project, it decries the naïve positivism of critical thinkers whom it accuses of hiding an unacknowledged neoliberal ideology in a fog of instrumentalism. The result plays out in a conflicted postindustrial world that faces overpopulation, ecological degradation, socio-economic inequity, technological domination, a democratic deficit, and a state of seemingly permanent war. The debate between critical thinking and critical pedagogy is ultimately about what education is for.