Critical Thinking & Cultural differences

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 09:33:21 GMT · by timo · 0 comments »

Having been in Hong Kong last week to introduce the Chinese version of Rationale, I am puzzled by the topic of cultural differences and their relationship with critical thinking.

The driving question of critical thinking and the question you ask when you are evaluating in Rationale each part of an argument map is: why should I believe this claim? What is the quality of the evidence? How true or acceptable are reasons provided? How strong is the inference that is being made? As an example of these questions see this hand-out Critical Questions for Analysing Maps.

By contrast, the maker of the Japanese version of Rationale, Akira Sato, wrote in a personal email:

‘ What may seem obvious to the West is not in Japan. Japanese tend to communicate using language(words) based on sympathy/passion and unsaid-context. Valid reasoning is frequently missing in "arguments" between Japanese. Explanation for that is, culturally it is impolite to ask a person why, why, why and likeness of agreeing people.

But this anti-argumentative culture should change in some areas since western style persuasion is required at business situations especially when colleagues who speaks English gather from all over the world.’

In Hong Kong there was great enthusiasm when teachers and people from the Educational Office saw what Rationale can do. They feel a strong need to infuse their secondary education with tools for developing critical thinking skills.

At the same time they told me that in China people tend to speak in stories and not so much in claims and they take positions that are polite, in between extremes, as not to offend people. They suggested a relationship with Confucianism here.

So acceptance of and asking the question: Why should I believe this? cannot be taken for granted. Some searching on the internet makes clear this is a topic in which stereotypes flourish ( about The East, The West, students, the educational system in China, rote learning etc.).

Apart from the question whether there is really such a difference between for instance critical thinking skills of students from China and students from ‘the West’, discussion is e.g. about explaining factors: is it culture, the educational system, a language problem (students using English as a second language), unique linguistic features of languages, a characteristic of a certain phase in cognitive development, the vagueness of the concept of critical thinking and more.

Read this tread to learn that in China the use and translation of the concept of critical thinking itself is loaded with all kind of political issues.

In this article of Michael O’Sullivan and Linyuan Guo the authors ‘’..engage in a dialogue on Western concepts of critical thinking and the reaction of one class of Chinese international students to this pedagogy.”

Sonja Elsegood ( of the Indonesia Australia Language Foundations) wrote a fascinating article: Teaching Critical Thinking in an English for Academic Purposes Program using a ‘Claims and Supports’ approach.
From the Abstract:

‘We argue the ‘claims and supports’ framework offers a useful set of principles for teaching critical thinking in EAP programs, and also has implications for cross-cultural teaching and learning because it recognizes that approaches to knowledge construction differ from one culture to another.

Difference does not mean deficit, but it does need to be made explicit, otherwise it forms part of a’ hidden curriculum’ which blocks students’ success.’

Being not an expert in this field, I would like to hear experiences and ideas of others.


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