Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Interview with Stephen Brookfield

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Interview with Stephen Brookfield

Article excerpt

Stephen Brookfield, presently Distinguished Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, was educated in England. He received his B. A. in History and Politics from Coventry University, his M. A. in Sociology from the University of Reading, and his Ph.D in Adult Education from the University of Leicester. The author of several book in the field of adult learning, he received the Cyril O. Houle Award for Literature in Adult Education for Developing Critical Thinkers, and the Cyril O Houle Award and the Imogene E. Oakes ward for Outstanding Research in Adult Education for Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning. Among his other books are The Skillful Teacher and Breaking Chains of Silence: Teachers as Agents of Their Own Development.

Brookfield serves on the editorial boards of American, Canadian, and international educational journals. As a consultant and workshop leader, he has introduced critical thinking concepts and practices to numerous colleges and university groups, major U. S. companies such as IBM, AT&T, Eli Lilly, and leading educational institutions in Canada and the United Kingdom. In 1991, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree by the School of Lifelong Learning, University System of New Hampshire.

THE WHITMAN INSTITUTE (TWI): What is your conception of a critical thinker?

STEPHEN BROOKFIELD: It's hard to give a short answer. Basically, it's someone who is in the habit of attempting to identify and examine the assumptions that underlie his or her habitual ways of thinking about something, and the assumptions underlying habitual ways of acting in situations -- identifying and scrutinizing them as to whether or not they are well-grounded in reality. The other facet I would look for is someone who is able quite easily to slip into alternative perspectives and inhabit other interpretive frameworks -- someone who can see a situation from a number of different angles, put themselves in another person's head and see through their eyes, and do some role-taking. Thos are two very difficult intellectual, or cognitive, functions I would be looking for. Someone who is struggling to do that, from my point of view, would be a critical thinker. And I say "struggling" to do it because I don't think anybody can do it uniformly or continually.

TWI: You're always learning.

BROOKFIELD: I think that, unfortunately, the increasing interest in critical thinking around the country has meant that we have now mandated courses on "Critical Thinking 101." I get asked to do critical thinking workshops around the country -- which I do, and I'm glad there is that increased interest, but the problem with packaging critical thinking, which is a process, into a workshop or a course is the implication that it's a neatly encapsulated body of content. And, from my point of view, the danger of doing that is people will take a critical thinking workshop or a course and say: "Great. Now I've got critical thinking; I can go on to something else." They'll treat it like conten whereas it's really an ongoing mental disposition -- a |lifelong~ way of examining ourselves and our place in the world.... From my point of view, actually, critical thinking is the best example of what can accurately be calle lifelong learning. If you ever think: "I am in total possession of all relevant knowledge about my assumptions and I can act always knowing that my assumptions are well-grounded; therefore, I don't need to take other perspectives or re-examine my assumptions," you are the antithesis of a critical thinker.

TWI: So in your work you emphasize that critical thinking is an open-ended process?

BROOKFIELD: Yes, I see it as an adult learning process that describes the way w make sense out of how we live our lives and how we interpret things that happen to us. Without what I would call a critical thinking disposition, it's tough to survive as an adult in this culture and in many others. …

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