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Trying to teach critical thinking as a separate, detached subject seems to always end up as pointless cargo-cultism. Actual critical thinking skill requires domain knowledge and insight about deeper structures in the knowledge domain. Teaching students metacognitive strategies like “look for the deep structure of the problem” or “consider both sides of the issue” can help somewhat, but won’t bring you all the way to arriving at the solution by themselves.


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    This is my argument for memorizing things, even in this age of having near continuous access to the Internet. It’s impossible to “think critically” about something without having something to trigger the reflex that engages system 2. For me, having context or other historical data in long term memory means that when presented with more information, I have more opportunities to think, “Wait, that’s not right,” and closely examine the information being presented, rather than just taking what’s presented at face value.

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      I’ve long said that the “external brain” idea—where the smartphone in your pocket, with its access to Google and Wikipedia, is seen as no different than having all that knowledge in your head—doesn’t hold water; but I always have some trouble explaining my view to skeptics. What you said is a good crystallization of it. It is, I think, not about whether the knowledge may be retrieved on demand, but whether understanding can be synthesized from it; and that is a process which, for actual memories in your actual brain, is ongoing at all times, and largely unconscious. And we often can’t know in advance what information or knowledge is relevant to what topic; so having to seek it out, in any given circumstance, means that we won’t find all the relevant stuff that would have been supplied by our brains if we’d had it all in our head.

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        If you’re talking to nerds (which you probably are, if you’re talking to people who believe seriously in the ‘external brain’ concept), you can say, more succinctly that the difference between having information in your head and having information on your phone is analogous to the difference between having data in L2 cache and having data in main memory. In terms of the ratio between lookup times, it’s pretty similar.

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      The article didn’t mention that Critical Thinking requires a general intelligence in the first place and that is not teachable under a certain level of brainpower - which not everybody has…

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