- Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking with Creativity by Patrick Finn
Patrick Finn is correct that critical thinking is a highly valued modus operandi across all levels of our education system. Educators are expected to teach students to think critically, but there is little consensus of what, precisely, critical thinking entails. In his book, Finn puts forward his understanding of critical thinking and an argument to replace critical thinking with a more creative way of thinking. If one accepts Finn's characterization of critical thinking, his case for replacing it is soundly presented. The book is addressed primarily to members of the academy, but its colloquial language and conversational tone opens it up to a broader readership. Finn presents his ideas with humility and a sincere desire to promote collegial dialogue about possibilities for creating more humane and productive university communities.
Finn traces the history of his understanding of critical thought back to Plato and, based on his own experiences in the academy, links critical thinking with suspicion, attack, judgement, and problem identification. He claims that such a critical way of thinking has been the dominant governing principle of universities for too long. He sees it as an outdated way of relating to knowledge, which needs to be rethought for the twenty-first century. He calls for a change in the ways that thinking, relating to one another's work, and pedagogical praxis occur at the university. [End Page 258]
In contrast to critical thinking, Finn associates creative thinking with trust, collaboration, innovation, loving communication, and hospitality. This, he believes, is the type of thinking needed to generate new ideas in response to changes in our world such as advancements in information technology, which are creating global networks of communication and open sources of information, accompanied by a more empathetic understanding of the human condition.
In my experience as an arts education graduate student and faculty member within the academy for the past eighteen years, I have not encountered the sort of vehement dichotomy between critical thinking and creativity that Finn describes. This begs the question if different disciplines have taken up critical thinking in differing ways. Finn's thesis seems based on a limited perspective. He does not want to abandon criticality altogether, however. He claims to seek a balance between the critical and the creative, which he identifies with the role of constructive criticism that is commonly part of a creative process. In fact, I maintain that universities have been slowly but steadily progressing toward what Finn might describe as a more creative approach – more encouragement of interdisciplinarity and collaboration, more openness and acceptance of diverse ways of knowing, meaning-making, and knowledge representation. In this sense, Finn's argument can perhaps be seen as more descriptive than prescriptive.
It is not without a measure of irony that Finn's proposal against critical thinking unfolds through a discursive argument typical of critical thought, though he acknowledges in the conclusion that he hopes his book does not come across this way. The book does make a worthy contribution in that it has the potential to disrupt business as usual at universities. It can open a dialogue about how we understand critical thinking, why we value it, and how greater attention to creativity can complement our work. Finn advocates for greater innovative, interdisciplinary, collaborative engagement, which is a productive approach as universities move into a precarious future.