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«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»

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In Habermas' view, the practical applications of philosophical study are (in the best of possible practices) mediated through careful debate between rational interlocutors, and occur in the context of socialization per public norms. "The goal of communicative action is a rational consensus to be brought about by the interpretive accomplishments of the subjects involved" (Habermas, 1977, p. 76). We may infer that the disposition towards engaging in this sort of intellectual (metacognitive, regulative) functioning, including deep analysis of the consistency of our ideas, is very useful to most learners (including teachers) throughout their lifetimes, and that this affective inclination should be encouraged by teachers throughout their students' educational development Epistemological Sophistication Epistemological sophistication, a normative ideal that describes our understandings of how beliefs, opinions, assumptions and conclusions are formed and changed, is a crucial dimension of higher-order thinking. Educators who understand the benefits of epistemic sophistication may manage to communicate the delightful experience of achieving deep and coherent understandings of complex subject matter. In this respect, a basic pedagogical construct has been developed (that of epistemological sophistication, Hofer and Pintrich, 1997) which places a focus on the effects of learners' beliefs about knowledge and knowing. Perry (1970) interviewed 464 college students on their beliefs about knowledge and knowing in a four-year longitudinal study; this pioneering project led him to develop a scheme of nine stages of epistemological development. The lowest level {basic duality) is characterized by omniscient Authority delivering absolute Truth; the highest level entails commitments (affirmations) to a pluralistic and relativistic perspective, culminating in an experience of life {developing commitment) that is akin to Maslow's (1954) description of the fully self-actualized individual. Several other theorists have agreed that absolutism (absolute truth) is the lowest level of epistemological sophistication, while high levels of epistemic awareness have been variously described as contextual (Baxter Magolda, 1992), evaluative (Kuhn, 1991), constructed (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, 1986), and reflective (King and Kitchener, 1994). The similarities in the ideas presented by these theorists provide a remarkable consensus on at least a sub-optimal approach to defining stages teachers need to lead students through a good epistemological education.

The levels of awareness described in each of these theoretical perspectives support the pragmatic philosophical perspective that intellectual growth is severely limited if it occurs in an epistemic framework of absolute truth, according to which human understanding is seen as the manipulation of already-formed ideas. In contrast, higher levels of understanding are characterized by the development of critical insights through deep and reflective evaluation of ideas and evidence (in particular contexts, and facilitated by progressive social discourses). Thus, the understanding that knowledge can be gained through the acceptance of received information from authoritative sources is (epistemologically and pedagogically speaking) far inferior to the idea that cognitive growth depends on deep and thoughtful analysis of the evidence, and of the assumptions that justify our ideas.

In another empirical investigation of the relevance of epistemic beliefs, Schommer (1990, 1993) used questionnaires to survey high school students and university undergraduates on their epistemic views. Her findings upon correlating her results with academic achievement indicate that those who believe that advanced knowledge is easy to acquire, or that it can be gained through an accumulation of simple ideas, are likely to fail in the quest for higher-order understandings. This relates to Bereiter's (2002) argument that educational reform needs a new theory of mind that would enable educators to teach for the type of deep understanding that enables learners to cope with the ill-structured applications, which are encountered outside of schools.

Bereiter (2002) points out, "The most basic of [educational] tools are our conceptions of mind and knowledge" (p. 4), and he concludes that the theory of mind as a container of knowledge objects is insufficient to support the flourishing of future citizens.

Taken together, Schommer and Bereiter have indicated that (to create a progression of deeper and more coherent understandings) we must be prepared to move away from an acquisition model of knowledge and knowing, to a view of knowing as a continual and fluid process of creating and modifying our ideas in the light of new evidence. Higher cognitive development demands that we continually create new discourses to provide ourselves with better understandings of that which we have known before. In particular, new discourses about knowledge and knowing can indicate to young students that they won't find knowledge in schools or in books; they must work out their ideas in their own ways, and for their own purposes (with the benevolent support of their teachers, who must do the same for themselves). When we work out our ideas in company with others, we create common understandings.

Hofer and Pintrich (1997) have described the conclusions of research into the role of epistemic beliefs in cognitive development. The similarities of the individual continua provided by various theorists point to a consensus which seems to have been informed by a common understanding of contemporary developments in educational philosophy. In particular, the weak sceptical approach is consistent with the rejection of the use of fundamental beliefs, which are assumed to be true, as appropriate bases for philosophical (epistemic, metaphysical, ethical or aesthetic) justification. Instead, all pedagogy is based on the acceptance of the idea that the best knowledge humans can articulate can only be justified by the coherency of a large number of (uncertain) beliefs which are mutually consistent with each other, each of which is supported by the best available evidence and the most careful (that is, most expert) analysis of alternative interpretations.

Ethics and Education Koetting and Malisa (2004) have noted that philosophical inquiry is normative, driven by and assessed in accordance with social values. It is also analytic (concerned with the use of language and concepts). They regard education as a moral undertaking, and they hold that educators are morally obligated to inquire (analyze, critique, theorize) into education theory, philosophy, and research. Noddings (1984) wrote, "The primary aim of all education must be nurturance of the ethical ideal" (p. 6). I hold that one aspect of higher-order thinking applies to considerations of ethical issues, which address problems regarding the negotiation of standards for proper or improper behaviour in social situations. I also follow Aristotle (and Ennis, 1998) in holding that the disposition to think in terms of ethical considerations (that is, caring for the interests of others) represents one aspect of higher-order thinking.

In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (1962/2000) discussed virtue as a commitment to lead a good life; the highest good for Aristotle is "an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence or virtue, and if there are several virtues, in conformity with the best and most complete" (1098a, 16-17). Virtue is not a function of doing the right thing; rather the term refers to practical wisdom and the effective performance of the right (or the best) actions. As an attribute of character, virtue may be understood as a commitment to behave well (to do the right thing, whatever the right thing might be in any given situation). Virtuous people characteristically manage to enact the intention to do that which is morally correct. It is important to note that, for the purposes of any such discussion, it must be assumed it is somehow possible to determine what is or is not considered to be correct under particular circumstances; this is a cognitivist theory of moral virtue. Practical wisdom is manifest (in varying degrees) in our assessments of what is correct in each case; again, for this discussion to be cogent, it must be understood that the possibility of making a "correct" moral choice is granted.

Cogent moral judgments entail a clear reckoning of particular situations, and also an educated recognition of what is at stake with regard to moral claims (assertions of moral value). The salient considerations in each case are combined and weighed in a reflective normative assessment, a moral judgment. The greatest difficulty in ethical analysis may not be the definition of ideal practices, but rather the applications of such theoretical notions in actual practice.

Noddings (2007) describes Aristotle's idea that "Children... should be taught to behave virtuously. The virtues identified in the very best citizens were to be inculcated at appropriate ages in children" (p. 166). She claims that character education (in the United States) is currently undergoing a revival, and that "Recognition of the pluralism of values... suggests the need for careful analysis of the virtues..."(p. 168). However, the most basic moral issue remains that of caring for others, the consideration of the interests of others as well as one's own. This "social contract" (originally described by Hobbes, 1981, as the only means for escaping from primitive egocentric amorality), should extend to every human relationship. This leaves us with the constant problem of balancing people's interests in our every social endeavour (which may call for careful consideration of complex ethical problems).

Nussbaum (1990) wrote that Aristotle's (1962/2000) account of virtue ethics captures "the sheer complexity and agonizing difficulty of choosing well" (Nussbaum, 1990, p. 55). While rules could play an important role in practical reason, situational judgment is required in the application of practical wisdom. Insight is gained through experience, and long practice of ethical discrimination enables one to grasp "the subtleties of a complex ethical situation [which] must be seized in a confrontation with the situation itself (p. 69). "Excellences are the ultimate bearers of value; virtue is embodied in the pursuit of excellence, and this quality can be an attribute of various forms of action. Each form of value contributes "to the richness and fullness of the good life" (p. 60). Virtue and practical wisdom are two components of Aristotle's description of human flourishing (eudaimonia). Reflective contemplation, which is characteristic of moral virtue, may be applied to the consideration of the values by which we guide our actions, especially when conflicts occur. Good deliberation is compared to improvisation, for the human needs and concerns to be considered in every situation are unique to those particular circumstances. It is important to note the relevance of deliberation in conducting a virtuous life; the attention to moral reasoning is a significant feature of the search for excellence.

Hursthouse (2001) emphasizes the essential point that, in addition to guiding adults with respect to correct moral behaviour, any normative ethics must "generate some account of moral education, of how one generation teaches the next what they should do" (p. 38). This is crucial, because if a minimally adequate moral education is not provided to future generations, then it is less likely that a society will be developed wherein people will be concerned with working well together or with distinguishing beneficence from maleficence. Hursthouse explores the virtuous agent's reasons for action; she claims that "moral motivation," far from being left out of the application of virtue ethics (as some theorists have implied), is an important feature of virtue theory. She makes the point that moral motivation is one aspect of the character of the practically wise agent, who discerns and performs morally correct actions.

Noddings (1984) promotes the idea that caring is a requisite for the most successful educational practices; she defines moral education as carrying a double meaning. "It refers to education which is moral in the sense that those planning and conducting education will strive to meet all those involved morally; and it refers to an education that will enhance the ethical ideal of those being educated so that they will continue to meet others morally" (p. 171). Morality is closely associated with reason.

"One cannot dismiss thinking and reasoning from ethical conduct... I must think effectively about what I should do in response to the other" (p. 171). It is important that educators "emphatically" reject the idea that home and church are the exclusive exemplars of moral conduct, while schools "train the intelligence"; rather, "The primary aim of every educational institution and of every educational effort must be the maintenance and enhancement of caring... It establishes the climate, a first approximation to the range of acceptable practices, and a lens through which all practices and possible practices are examined" (pp. 172-173).

Inferences Regarding Philosophical Bases of Higher-Order Cognitive Development Since understanding is an essential educational goal (upon which higher cognitive functions such as analysis, evaluation and synthesis are based), learners who are committed to clarity and cogency should learn to comprehend contemporary views of knowing and understanding. We cannot cultivate coherent thinking without recognizing the bounds of coherency. While the vagaries of epistemology may be confusing upon initial exposure, the value of gaining a variety of perspectives on the subject may well be worth the time and the effort that are required to do so. Educators and their students may ground themselves in contemporary philosophical ideas, which hold that the objective of understanding is cogency (appropriate local justifications), rather than (universal) truth,

and that the philosophical emphasis of education can be placed on human flourishing:

virtue, caring, and utility.

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