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Critical & Creative Thinking, MA

The Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) program at the University of Massachusetts Boston provides its students with knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.

Critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice are valued, of course, in all fields. In critical thinking we seek to scrutinize the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue — by others and by oneself; such scrutiny is enhanced by placing ideas and practices in tension with alternatives. Key functions of creative thinking include generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions that are unique and effective, and exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, make new connections, and see how things could be otherwise. In reflective practice we take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise our approaches accordingly.

The rationale for a master’s program of study in CCT is that an explicit and sustained focus on learning and applying ideas and tools in critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice allows students involved in a wide array of professions and endeavors to develop clarity and confidence to make deep changes in their learning, teaching, work, activism, research, and artistry. By the time CCT students finish their studies they are prepared to teach or guide others in ways that often depart markedly from their previous schooling and experience. In these processes of transformation and transfer, CCT students have to select and adapt the ideas and tools presented by faculty with diverse disciplinary and interdisciplinary concerns. Although each CCT course is self-contained and is open to students from other graduate programs, students matriculated in the Program benefit from extended relationships with core CCT faculty and fellow students that support their processes of learning — experimenting and taking risks in applying what they are learning, reflecting on the outcomes and revising accordingly, and building up a set of tools, practices, and perspectives that work in their specific professional or personal endeavors.

Impact of Studies

The CCT Program appeals to students looking for professional and personal development who are interested in learning from and with others of diverse backgrounds and interests. Many are mid-career educators: teachers and college professors, curriculum specialists, museum educators, or educational administrators. Others are policy makers or personnel trainers in government, corporate, scientific, or nonprofit settings. Some are artists, musicians, writers, journalists, and community activists. Through course projects, independent studies, pre-capstone research courses, and the capstone synthesis projects, CCT students explore issues they have not had much chance to address before and translate what they learn into strategies, materials, and interventions for use in diverse educational, professional, and social settings. Graduates leave CCT well equipped for ongoing learning, addressing the needs of their schools, workplaces, and communities, adapting and contributing to social changes, and collaborating with others to these ends. Testimonials and Notes from Alumni of the program can be viewed on the CCT wiki, Abstracts and full-text versions of thesis and capstone syntheses can be viewed at

Extract  from Thesis: Homeopathy and Critical and Creative Thinking, copyright

By David Cleveland

CHAPTER I I.                             

Critical and creative thinking (c.c.t.) is included in this thesis as a tool, used by homeopathic practitioners.

Critical Thinking

'Critical,' as used in critical thinking, refers to a neutral, expansionist way of thinking. It uses multiple perspectives, identifications of assumptions, logic, and "what if" questions. It infers thinking that is beyond the obvious. Albert Shanker, quoted in Omni magazine said the following about critical thinking. "Life requires critical thinking skills, the ability to express yourself, persuade, argue and build, that's what we need to teach students" (Cummings 1990, 44).

Uncritical Thinking

It may be useful to review Richard Paul's definition of a non-critical thinker, before continuing. "A non-critical thinker is a person who hasn't developed intellectual abilities. This allows uncritical people to be naive, conforming, manipulable, dogmatic in their thinking, and easily confused. In addition, they can be close minded, narrow minded, poor with word choices, and unable to identify evidence from an interpretation. The uncritical person may feel that they are being critical in their thinking which makes our topic a fundamental human problem. Teaching for insight can approach the problem by illuminating the general tendency to be an uncritical thinker" (Paul 1993).

Critical Thinkers

Paul feels that critical thinkers will conceptualize the whole and will be involved in overcoming psychological and intellectual barriers that they may be accepting, and comfortable with at present. He subsequently, states that critical thinking is incorporated into a lifestyle, not just studied for a semester or two. One of the most important traits that critical and creative thinkers possess, according to Paul, is that of suspending judgement and being open-minded. (Paul 1993)

A Prerequisite to Critical Thinking.

"Critical thinking starts from perceiving your place in society . . . but critical thinking goes beyond your perceptions, toward the actions and decisions people make to shape and gain control over their life" (Costa 1991, 188).

Critical Thinking Vocabulary

Costa's definition of critical thinking states that we must use ample evidence, statistical information, facts, examples and expert witnesses from primary and secondary sources. Primary evidence, as provided by personal observation, has the greatest impact. Secondary evidence, leads a person to ask questions, and some of these questions could be as follows.

Is the source considered an expert on the subject? •Is the source in the references cited, or a bibliography of other works? •Is primary material (first hand) used as evidence? •Is the source's use of language objective? •Is the source recently dated? •Is the source found in a reliable publication? (Costa 1991, 305)

The reader can see from the above critical thinking questions that "critical" is not about the words in the following list:

Derogatory, Disparaging, Faultfinding, Picky, Judgmental, Belittle, Contempt, Negative, Uncomplimentary, Deprecate, Ridicule, Contrary, Disapproving, Dissenting, Opposing, Fatalistic, Pessimistic, Skeptical, Dubious. (Davis 1986, 54)

A critical thinker would most likely be using "critical" in the sense of:

Crucial, Decisive, Important, Momentous, Pivotal, Analytical, Discriminating, Preference, Selective, Significant, Meaningful. (Davis 1986, 44)

A critical and creative thinker would probably accept that there are as many thinkers, and viewpoints, as there are people on the planet.

Costa helps to identify critical and creative thinkers by explaining:

Just as basic reading differs from advanced reading, basic thinking abilities also differ from critical thinking abilities. (Costa 1991, 3)

Richard Paul: Critical Thinkers Needed.

Richard Paul explains how important the need for critical thinkers is and the difficulties surrounding this task.

The necessary paradigm shifts, however, do entail the cultivation of critical thinking across the work force, up and down the lines of labor and management, across industries, across educational levels, and into the everyday discussions of national and international issues. This shift is painfully against the American grain, contrary to our orthodox folk wisdom, and incompatible with much current thinking of both business and labor leaders (Paul 1993, 11).

Pathways Of Creative Thinking

This section, on creative thinking, begins with a short story from an (unknown) architect. He had finished building a cluster of office buildings in the middle of a large area that he had sown with grass. He then waited to put the sidewalks into place until people had etched into the lawn, the natural pathways. When the pathways were well- defined, he constructed the appropriate sidewalks for the buildings (Oech 1983, 144).

The following statements are further ‘pathways' of creative definitions, taken from a large sampling of authors. These creative thinking definitions generally include the ‘individual', which in turn includes the scientist, the homeopath, and orthodox medical people, as they work in their individual disciplines. Table (2.1) presents some views of ‘creativity' by people in the fields of education, science, psychology, and critical and creative thinking.

Many of skills and strategies of c.c.t. describe a similar pattern of evaluation that a homeopath uses in determining a client's imbalance. For example, a homeopath must remain open to comments and symptoms and continually search for alternative explanations. No two clients are considered the same, nor is it expected that they will describe their concerns in similar ways. The homeopath must be able to hear a symptom and frequently rephrase it in order to elicit deeper, causal symptoms. Failure occurs in homeopathy, but there always remains an opportunity to turn that failure into further research of the patient's symptoms. As a homeopath, the author particularly cherishes the use of humor during the evaluation work-up. The author's thoughts are that if the person can understand their problems with appropriate humor (without judgement, or criticism), that they may shed some light onto their condition, allowing them to be more objective as to their condition. Often times humor will allow symptoms that have been suppressed to resurface. In addition, humor and laughter challenges the healing abilities of the body into action.

Table 2.1 Viewpoints On Creative Thinkers & Thinking.

                    Author                               Interpretation                                        Source

Jerome BrunerAn act that produces effective surprise--this I shall take as the hallmark of a creative enterprise BrunerBruner 1962, 3C.Cornett. . . Thrive on incongruity. . .have a whimsical frame of mind.Costa 1991, 103Joseph Costa. . .Exposing students to the flavor and texture of creative inquiry and hope they get hooked.Costa 1991, 87Gary DavisThe creative person and self-actualized person are the same.Davis 1986, 29Sigmond FreudCreativity is merely the outcome of an unconscious neurotic conflict.Davis 1991, 22Carl JungThe ‘psychological type' is consciously involved in creativity. The ‘visionary type' is creative and mystical.Davis 1986, 15Roger von OechHumor forces you to combine ideas that are usually not associated with each other.Oech 1983, 92Sidney ParnesHumor and creativity depend on seeing something in the more obvious way.Parnes 1981, 35Richard PaulCreativity is essential to all rational dialogical thinking. . .Baron 1987, 143David Perkins . . . They learn to view failure as normal, even interesting and challenging.Costa 1991, 194David RenzulliGifted children are high in creativity, and motivation, and are at least average in intelligence.Davis 1991, 158(Burrhus Frederic)

aka  B.F.SkinnerSince we have no freedom and our behavior is controlled by others we should not accept the dignity of personal achievement. Davis 1991, 25 

Einstein's Theory of Guessing.

A recent scientist who creatively guessed, when nothing he was doing was providing solutions to a problem, was Albert Einstein. In his theory of gravitation he went ahead and guessed, beyond the already known principles. (Feynman 1991, 162)

Einstein and creativity. A creative person is always questioning and examining where he or she is in the universe. According to Feynman, Einstein had the following to say about creativity.

To raise new questions, new problems, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and makes real advances. The formation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. (Einstein in Feynman 1991, 170)

Humor and Creativity.

Cornett (1986) felt that, "creative problem solvers thrive on finding incongruity and have a whimsical frame of mind" (Costa, 1991, 103). It's known that laughter transcends all human beings and that it affects the body's physiological functions. This can include a drop in the pulse rate, a secretion of endorphin and an increase of oxygen in the blood. It's also known to liberate creativity and provoke such higher level thinking skills as anticipation, finding novel relationships, and visual imagery. "People who behave intelligently can perceive situations from an original and often humorous vantage point. They need to initiate humor more often . . ." (Costa 1991, 103). "Both humor and creativity depend largely on our being able to see something in more than the obvious, expected way" (Parnes 1981, 35).

Davis surmises that creative people would most likely share some of the following traits:

They are aware of their creativity; independent, self-confident, enthusiastic, spontaneous, adventurous, thorough, curious, have wide interests, good sense of humor, playful, childlike, artistic interests, aesthetic interest, idealistic, reflective, needs for privacy, and are attracted to novelty, complexity, and the mysterious. (Davis 1986, 31)

Experts in the fields of psychology and science have the ensuing thoughts about creative thinking.

No Unified Psychological Theory. .

We freely use such terms as imagination, ingenuity, innovation, intuition, invention, discovery and originality, interchangeably with ‘creativity.' (Freeman, Butcher and Cristie 1986 in Davis 1991, 14)

Davis (1991) continues with a quotation from Nichols (1972).

. . . the term creativity is used with something approaching (reckless) abandon by psychologists. . . and people in general. Davis 1991, 14)

Creativity is Like the Scientific Method..                                                                      

Torrence (1977) thinks that creativity is like the scientific method:

That the creative person will be able to sense gaps in information or problems, they will then form ideas and hypothesis, they test and modify these hypotheses and finally communicate the results. (Torrence in Costa 1991, 16)

B.F. Skinner proposes that even if there is creativity it would not exist because we really didn't create it. Skinner, associated with his theory of behaviorism, studies a person's visible behavior, instead of the many gestalt activities that may be occurring simultaneously.

. . . since we have no freedom, and all of our behavior is controlled by those who give us reinforcements and punishments, that we should not accept the dignity which comes from personal achievements, as these were really determined by the people who handed out the rewards and the punishments. (Skinner in Davis 1986, 25)

With all the definitions and thoughts that endure in the domains of science, medicine, and education, it is suggested that we consciously search for and accept paradigm change that is occurring today, and to support those that are working for these changes. Buckminster Fuller felt strongly about societies' need to mentally relocate into a new paradigm consciousness

We are going to have to spread our wings of intellect and fly or perish; that is, we must dare immediately to fly by the generalized principles governing the universe and not by the ground rules of yesterday's superstitious and erroneously conditioned reflexes. And as we attempt competent thinking we immediately begin to reemploy our innate drive for comprehensive understanding. (Fuller 1971, 52)

Stand Under Their Own Stars.

Marilyn Ferguson ,quotes Herman Hesse when he said, "Every life stands beneath its own star." She continues with, The transformed self has new tools, gifts, sensibilities. Like an artist, it spies pattern; it finds meaning and its own inescapable originality. Like a good scientist the transformed self experiments, speculates, invents and relishes the unexpected (Ferguson 1980, 85).

Personal Reflections on C.C.T.

On reflection, there are as many definitions of critical and creative thinking as there are people who have consciously expressed themselves. The author adds to these definitions with his personal understanding of critical and creative thinking. "c.c.t. is an unfolding process, a process of discovery, and of self awareness. Awareness in the sense that there is a choice, while typing, to continue typing this line, or to skip a line, even though it would not be appropriate. There is a choice of making these words italics or bold, or even assigning numbers (1. , 2. , 3.) to them, where they don't belong, according to current paradigms of writing. An important part of being a critical and creative thinker incorporates enhanced awareness and intrinsic freedom. It includes the ability to step outside of governing rules or structures of society. The use of c.c.t. must also acknowledge, and use, the responsibility and integrity of personal thoughts, actions, and responsibility."

Critical and Creative Thinking is Caught not Taught.

The following is an addendum to the previous definition that said, "critical and creative thinking cannot be taught" (Costa1991, 87). This author's suggestion is, "It is caught, caught in the sense of knowing. A persons' knowing they are capable of more, and actually taking the actions necessary to become more."

When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself. (Plato in Costa 1991, 102)

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