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Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy as Education and Evaluation of Thinking

Giuseppe Boncori
Pontificia Universita Urbaniana

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ABSTRACT: Teaching philosophy and critical thinking is one of the main ways to clearly reaffirm the value of human persons and of goodness and freedom. It is not sufficient to propose a philosophical message, but we must teach it systematically (curriculum) with a real synergy between teachers and parents. We must also build a curriculum, which includes an evaluation model based on clear goals and objectives: the intermediate and final evaluation and assessment will enable us to be sure that we have reached our aim. It is also necessary to verify every step, evaluate it and compare it to the criteria (general project, goals, objectives) we put in our mind and use in our teaching. This critical evaluation needs methods and some teaching instruments described herein. The final philosophical education will be much stabler and assure us about our scientific and formative project.

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I. Teaching Philosophy

Philosophical thinking includes an educational dimension, according to the dialogical structure of human thinking. First of all a preliminary question: is philosophy teaching and learning possible? This is the main problem, from Socrates to today: if a science exists and can be transmitted: without any objective and universal philosophical knowing about justice, goodness, truth, man becomes the measure of all things (according to Protagoras; science becomes sensation and human knowing is under subjectivism. But it's possible to get truth by dialogue: then it is also possible teaching and philosophically thinking using argumentation and research of universal ideas, transcending simple and unfounded opinions (CIFUENTES, 1997 #4922). This thesis, from Plato to Kant and German idealism (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel) seems the main scientific trend up to today (BARON & STERNBERG, 1987a; BARON & STERNBERG, 1987b; ENNIS, 1987; QUELLMALZ, 1987; SMITH, 1987), in spite of contrasting voices, like Rousseau, against any guidance in philosophical education: the tradition of philosophical schools seems to deny these assumptions, at least "in actu exercito". A problem arises about the teacher, whose duty would be to propose and not to impose his ideas: truth, freedom and human person could be at risk, particularly in developing situations. It is possible to overcome these problems by a philosophical education that could be able to teach critical thinking as a method to evaluate, assess and verify ideas, events and everything that is transmitted. This is a way philosophy can maintain its main traits. The present communication will say how we can teach philosophy, and how we can evaluate philosophical learning (High, 1991; O'Loughlin, 1991), and how we can evaluate critical philosophical learning.

The teaching of philosophy want to obtain the integral education of human person, to know the meaning of human existence and activiy (PIERETTI, 1991).

The teaching of philosophy is a contribute to «complete formation of the human subject, specially in doing philosophy, asking to know, to look for the truth, to compare opinions, to dialogue with others subjects, with nature, with God. This kind of teaching significantly contributes to know the human nature and to discover values and meanings of life and community (RIGOBELLO, 1979).

II. Education and its role in teaching philosophy

The teaching process tries to study the best methods, mental processes and contents to learn and grow as a human person, according to developing situations and cultural and social differences. Teaching activity is a kind of "translation" (as Bruner says), trying to adapt something to someone. From the old philosophical tradition to now a day, many kinds of myths and concrete representations have been used to help intelligence, motivation, memory and learning. This kind of speaking by "parables" and "concrete operations", as J Piaget would say, is a quite useful method in philosophical education , that we have to program by systematic steps, goals and objectives. For example, to make children understand the idea of virtue, of goodness and so on, we had not only to explain theorically defined concepts, but also show concrete good behaviours in which the goodness is actualised. Active methods are proposed too, like simulations of philosophical activity, able to help motivation of the students (GIRLE, 1991; MILLAN, 1997).

At the end of a systematic teaching there is the evaluation, that verifies if the programmed goals have been realised. We must compare the programmed curriculum, our intentions, to reality, on the basis of the goals and objectives. The validity and reliability are the main traits of a good evaluation (BONCORI, 1992).

III. Education and philosophy learning: critical thinking evaluation.

1) Evaluation and critical thinking

Educational research about critical thinking is increasing in the last decades , at least in the U.S.A. The main interest is about intelligence education and evaluation ability; that ability is to make a guided judgement based on logical and epistemological criteria guided . There are discussions and debates about theory and educational methods and instruments. Researchers emphasise the value of human person, the social, educational and curricular dimension, including teaching and evaluating (BLAIR, 1988; CHAFFEE, 1988; PAUL, 1984; PAUL, 1987; SIEGEL, 1988). Why so much interest for this topic? Critical thinking research have originally a social and philosophical-educational dimension: one of the first book on this subject was edited by National Council for the social Studies, in Washington D.C. in 1942: the editor was H.R. Anderson (ANDERSON, 1942) associated professor at the Cornell University, which presented a series of studies by G. Marcham , professor of English History at the Cornell University, H. Taba, assistant professor of Education and Research Associates at the University of Chicago ("The evaluation of critical thinking"), H.E. Wilson, associate professor at Harvard University. Theorical debate emphasises many aspects of the critical thinking idea: for many authors it is quite the same as logical thinking (CURTIS, 1980; ENNIS, 1958; ENNIS, 1962; HUGHES, 1977; Hyram, 1957; ULMER, 1949; WERKMEISTER, 1948; WHITE, 1936; WOODS & WALTON, 1974) or problem solving thinking (ALDRICH, 1948; BOSTWICK, 1959; DRESSEL & MAYHEW, 1954; MILLER & WESTON, 1949) The researchers stress the social motivation, the value of human person: the education of critical thinking could be a good defence against propaganda, advertisement and all the enemies of freedom and democracy (ANDERSON, MARCHAM, & DUNN, 1944; ELLIS, 1942; MARCHAM, ANDERSON, DUNN, & LUDLUM, 1941; SMITH, 1953) Others emphasise the critical evaluation in scientific method, specially about the hypothese's nature and analysis (HENDERSON, 1958; WALLEN, HAUBRICH, & REID, 1963). Other authors underline critical thinking as a cognitive act: the main components are logical analysis, data and experience evaluation, problem solving steps evaluation (BLOOM, KRATHWOHL, & MASIA, 1984-85; DRESSEL & MAYHEW, 1954a; HUNKINS, 1970; RIVERSO, 1993; RUSSELL, 1956; TABA, et al., 1964). Analysing different researches through the years, we can see a common trend that unifies many authors: critical thinking is theorised as an intelligence ability, but as a particular one, like a thinking directed to evaluate and verify a process or a product of mind. This trend is clearly exposed by an italian pedagogist (CALONGHI, 1976a; CALONGHI, 1976b): critical ability is a control on mind product and it is different from any other mental activity, for example verbal understanding and logical thinking or problem solving activity.

Methods to evaluate critical thinking. Different methods are used to evaluate critical thinking. Among written tests, one of the first tools is the "Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal": published in the U.S.A. in many editions (WATSON & GLASER, 1964) , «is broken up into five parts, each of which has its own set of directions and examples. The parts are called "Inference" (Items 1-20), "Recognition of Assumptions" (Item 21-36), "Deduction" (Item 37-61), "Interpretation" (Items 62-85), and "Evaluation of Arguments" (Itams 86-99). (...) The materials were developed in the late 30's and have since been revised several times. The items consistently require students to examine evidence and to think (...).The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is a popular critical thinking, and as such, deserves careful examination» (ENNIS, 1958) Example from the Watson-Glaser-Critical-Thinking-Apraisal - section on assumption identification: "If you think the assumptio is not necessarily taken for granted inthe statement, blacken the space under "ASSUMPTION NOT MADE" - "I'm travelling to South America. I want to be sure that I do not get typhoid fever, so I shall go my physician and get vaccinated against typhoid fever before I begin my trip". Proposed Assumption: Typhoid fever is more common in South America than it is where I live. MADE or NOT MADE?" (ENNIS, 1987) . This test aims to assess evaluative and reasoning abilities, including the critical ones. «However, many studies stress the necessity of a better validation (WILSON & WAGNER, 1981) : the main objection is that this test seems more similar to a reading test than to a critical thinking test (MODJESKI & MICHAEL, 1983) . The "Cornell Critical Thinking Test" instead, by R.H. Ennis e J. Millman (ENNIS, 1958; RUST, 1960; RUST, JONES, & KAISER, 1962; WALLEN, HAUBRICH, & REID, 1963) aims to evaluate critical abilities, but in fact is a test of logical thinking. The Ennis model of critical evaluation and thinking: «Critical thinking is reasonable and reflective thinking that il focused on deciding what to believe or do. Based upon this definition, I suggested a conception of critical trhinking utilizing the simple idea that a decision about belief or action involves four basic elements: (A) basic support (especially information) on which the decision is grounded, (B) the inference to the decision, (C) clarity, and (D) a set of critical thinking dispositions. These four majior categories generate a set of aspects that could be a sest of specifications for the critical thinking component of a teacher-competence test, both in and out of teachers' subject-area specialities. A) Basic support: 1. Judging the credibility of sources; 2. Observing and judging observation statements. B) Inference: 3. Deducing, and judging deductions; 4. Inducing, and judging inductions; 5. Value judging. C) Clarity: 6. Focusing on a question; 7. Analyzing arguments; 8. Asking and answering clarifying questions; 9. Defining terms, and judging definitions; 10. Identifying assupntions; D) Dispositions, including these: 11. Being openminded; 12. Looking for other alternatives; 13. Being well informed; 14. Using one's critical thinking abilities

The American Council on Education built a test to evaluate critical thinking: in this case too there is an overlapping between critical evaluation and other intellectual abilities, like verbal competence and problem solving capacity (CALONGHI, 1976) . The test of critical thinking by S.W. Lundsteen is directed to evaluate this ability in a sample of preadolescents, and aims to assess it more exactly, without overlapping with any other intellectual (verbal, logical, ...) abilities. «What is meant by critical thinking and by critical listening? The opinion presented in this report is taken from the definition by Russell (RUSSELL, 1956) , also found in the descriptions by Guilford (cit) and Bloom (cit) for evaluation. Russell distinguished this basic mental process from the five others (perceptual, associative, conceptual, creative and problem solving) by insisting (1) that a standard or highly conscious criteria be present in the mind of the thinkier at the same time the process takes place; (2) that as the thinkier sifts the evidence regarding an object or statement and suspends evaluation, he does then make a critical judgment; (3) finally, that the thinker, who is able to support his judgment with reasons derived from either internal logic or external values, in the form of consensual data, acts or concludes on the judgment made (LUNDSTEEN, 1969) . «Critical listening was defined as a fourfold process that included esamining spoken materials in the light of related objective evidence, comparing the ideas under evaluation with some criteria, making a judgment on the ideas, and acting on the judgment made (LUNDSTEEN, 1966) . B.S. Bloom says the evaluation «is defined as the making of judgments about the value, for some purpose, of ideas, works, solutions, methods, material, etc. It involves the use of criteria as well as standards for appraising the extent to which particulars are accurate, effective, economical, or satisfying. The judgments may be either quantitative or qualitative, and the criteria may be either those determined by the student or those which are given to him. (...) After an individual has comprehended and perhaps analyzed a work, he may be called upon to evaluate it in terms of various internal criteria. Such criteria are for the most part tests of the accuracy of the work as judged by the logical relationship evident in the work itself. Has the writer (or speaker) been consistent in his use of terms, does one idea really follow from another, and do conclusions follow logically from the material presented. (...) Judgments in terms of external criteria. Evaluation of material with reference to selected or remembered criteria. The criteria may be ends to be satisfied; the techniques, rules, or standards by wich such works are generally judged; or the comparison of the work with other works in the filed. This type of evaluation involves the classification of the phenomena that the appropriate criteria for judgment may be employed. Thus, a work of history is to be judged by criteria relevant to historical works rather than to works of fiction. A rethorical work is to be judged by criteria relevant to such works rather than criteria appropriate to different kinds of verbal presentations (...) All of this involves the assumption that each phenomenon is a member of a class and is to be judged by criteria which are apprppriate to that class. This also includes the possibility of comparing a work with other members of the same class work». (BLOOM, 1979)

J.P. Guilford & ass. studied also a way to analyse intelligence and critical thinking, and a method to evaluate it: an interesting distinction Guilford does about the contents critical thinking can be applied: verbal or non verbal, auditory, perceptual, behavioural, etc. «Evaluation involves reaching decisions as to the accuracy, goodness, suitability, or workability of information (GUILFORD, 1959) . «The best established evaluation factor is that of logical evaluation. This is defined as the ability to judge the soundness of conclusions where logical consistency is the criterion. The facto has sometimes been called "deduction", with the belief that it is the ability to draw conclusions logically consistent with premises. If this were the case, the factor would belong with the production-factors group. Most tests in which the factor has been found to be a component are the true-false or multiple-choice form, in which the examinee is given conclusions. (GUILFORD, 1956) ; (GUILFORD & HOPFNER, 1967)

On the light of these and others studies we built a new test, the "Caccia all'errore 12A". This test has been originally built for a Ph.D. in Education, in the University "La Sapienza" of Roma. It's a non verbal test, including 60 multiple alternative items, experimentally validated on a sample of preapdolescents. The model is strictly based on the idea we described (and criticied) in the previous sections: the test consists in comparing different geometrical figures in logical order; one of the elemnts can be a mistake: the task is to find the mistake, if there is one. The logical operations are selected among seriation and classification, the only ones children 11 years old usually master. So we can be sure that the evaluation is only about critical ability, without any verbal overlapping (BONCORI, 1986; BONCORI, 1989) .


Teaching of philosophy and critical thinking is one of the main problems to clearly reaffirm the value of human person and of goodness and freedom. It is not sufficient to propose a philosophical message but we had to teach it systematically (curriculum) with a real synergy of teachers and parents. We must also build a curriculum, with includes an evaluation model based on clear goals and objectives: the intermediate and final evaluation and assessment shall make us sure that we reached our aim. It is also necessary to verify every step, evaluate it and compare it to the criteria (general project, goals, objectives) we put in our mind and used in our teaching. This critical evaluation needs methods and some teaching instruments, we described before. The final philosophical education will be so more stable and will make us sure about our scientific and formative project.

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