Metacognition is the point at which students begin to think not just about facts and ideas, but about how they think about those facts and ideas.What if they think about facts and ideas badly, and become aware of this? Doe that count as metacognition? I suspect not. I don't think Flaherty (and other people who talk this way) really means what she says. She goes on:
Metacognition has always underpinned a liberal arts education, but just how to teach it has proved elusive. Hence the cottage industry around critical thinking – even in an era when employers and politicians are calling for more skills-based training, competency and “outcomes.”Thinking about thinking, as metacognition is defined elsewhere in the article, has surely not underpinned a traditional liberal arts education. I think that what she means is something like what Dewey calls reflection, and that is basically being rational, or thinking for oneself, rather than swallowing beliefs uncritically. It means, in a nutshell, believing what there is good reason to believe, and knowing what the reasons are (and, perhaps, why they are good). It's the kind of thing that you learn by writing essays rather than taking short answer tests, by being grilled in class rather than lectured at, and by being held to (more or less) objective standards rather than being encouraged to think that every opinion is equally valid. In other words, if critical thinking skills are less than they used to be (and they might not be), then I suspect this is because of large class sizes (and the labor-saving pedagogy they encourage) and perhaps also some sloppy relativism floating around in classes where students do have to write and argue.
This bit is interesting too:
As a possible solution [to the problem of untenured professors being afraid to make their students think critically], Sheffield and his colleagues from the summer institute are hoping to talk with administrators about a way to offer some “immunity or amnesty” for professors who are taking chances to make their curriculums more rigorous, but who fear negative student reactions.Over at the Daily Nous dmf points out that we lack a definition of critical thinking, to which Matt Drabek responds that Sheffield appears at least to be familiar with Peter Facione's work on the subject. The essay by Facione that Flaherty links to seems to be aimed at a non-scholarly audience and deliberately avoids defining 'critical thinking', but ends with this as something like a working definition of the term:
(It really does end like this, I'm not just snipping badly.)
The idea seems to be intellectual virtue. But can such virtue be taught? I would think that "CT skills" can be taught, although not in big lecture classes with multiple-choice tests. And quite possibly not by people worried about being popular with their students. Nurturing the relevant dispositions is another matter. That seems like something that might have to be done outside as well as inside the classroom. It's a matter of socialization. And a kind of socialization that goes against the grain of much contemporary culture.