Excerpt from Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking with Creativity by Patrick Finn
From the Preface
This short book is an invitation to participate in a thought experiment. I ask you to join me in considering what would happen if we replaced critical thinking with creative practice at the heart of learning. In pursuing this experiment, we will examine some of the history of critical thinking and look at examples of how critical and creative work might operate in the university.
Given that universities are where we train teachers, doctors, lawyers, dancers, politicians, and so many others who influence the way our world works, it seems to me that how we do our work matters a great deal. For generations, our accepted practice has been to have every course in the university operate in a mode that foregrounds critical thinking. What would happen if we changed that?
We promise students who arrive on campus that we will turn them into critical thinkers and then go to great lengths to explain that this is a good thing. But is it? Is it good for us? Is it good for everyone? Perhaps it is, but it has been a long time since anyone asked whether critical thinking is helping us. (Actually, it may be that no one has ever asked.) What if it is not? What if it is time we put another way of working at the heart of what we do? And what if that mode is more creative than critical? Why don’t we think about this for the next few pages and then have a discussion?
From Chapter 4: We Can’t Go On Together (with Suspicious Minds)
Diamonds are funny things. Everyone agrees that they are beautiful to look at. They even have some industrial uses in drill bits and saw blades. But they are not actually very valuable, because they just are not that rare. Those in charge of the world’s production, refining, and sale of diamonds have found ways to artificially inflate their value—ways that have succeeded so well that the imposed value of diamonds is high enough that every year, many people lose their lives mining and selling them.
Critical thinking is a bit like the diamond trade. No one doubts that it is brilliant on the surface and that it is very good at cutting into things, but we have falsely inflated its value in order to maintain cultural capital in our educational institutions. In a similar fashion, when you question either the diamond trade or the retail market for critical thinkers you are in for some heated discussions. The problem with cleaning up the diamond trade is that we are deeply attached to the illusion. We have marked those stones as somehow related to our highest expressions of love and have spent billions on them, so no one wants to admit they are only worth a fraction of what we say they are. Perhaps it is the same with critical thinking. It seems to be getting tougher to sell university education these days, and we think that if we give up the notion that we are in possession of advanced mental tactics that can be taught for a price, then maybe we will lose value in the marketplace of ideas.
The emotions that drive the diamond market are not necessarily bad, and the public seems comfortable with the ongoing narrative about the diamond trade, but we should have alli the information before we make up our minds. In the area of critical thinking, people have more options. The growing interest in creative thinking can be seen in every corner of the academy. This interest extends across geographic boundaries and is now as hot a topic in India and China as it is in Canada and the United States.
The market for critical thinking is collapsing, with departments that traditionally linked themselves to its instruction losing numbers while other parts of the university grow. The fastest-growing areas all have programs that connect to words like innovation, entrepreneurship, invention, and creativity. This is quite exciting for those of us who are interested in the world of creative thought; however, it is important that those in the disciplines whose focus is linked directly to creative work be part of the discussion.
Around the world, people continue to ask for diamonds. More and more of them are being mined, and every major city has dozens of retailers offering them. The same cannot be said for critical thinking: no one is asking for more of it. No business is saying, “What we need is more criticism—let’s look at this issue critically.” No government office is saying, “What we need is a more critical approach—who do we have that is a critical thinker?” We do not look to our politicians, our educators, or any of the industries that serve us and ask for more critical people. In fact, it turns out that we would like significantly less of it.
When we look behind the scenes, we find that today the world of critical thinking is a bursting bubble. There will always be value in it, but it currently holds an artificially high value that needs to be adjusted down. Meanwhile, creative thinking is enjoying increasing demand and is poised to replace its more linear cousin as the mode of thought of greatest benefit to most of us. To engage most fully with our talents as individuals and as citizens of a global community, we need to engage with open, contributory modes of thinking and working. I call this loving thinking, and it involves working from a position that begins in hope rather than in suspicion.