- Questions, Answers, and Decontextualized Rationality
By now, you have celebrated the 2014 Gregorian New Year and are waiting with bated breath for this editorial—and, yes, this is another one with a weird-sounding title. The suspense from waiting is over, but I am not certain whether the outcome will be confusing, ambiguous, or—perhaps—pleasant. I suspect that you might even wonder about the relevance of this topic, and especially my approach, to understanding the controversies in our field. In any case, you can decide on these issues after reaching the end of this editorial and, hopefully, after checking out the contents of the references.
Most educators, researchers, and even theorists know that composing questions and providing answers to them is a complicated, controversial endeavor. Somewhere I have read that Voltaire remarked that we should judge people by their questions rather than their answers. With all due respect, I think we should evaluate both the questions and the answers and, perhaps, reserve our highest accolades for the creative composition of a range of questions followed by an imaginative array of answers or perspectives. What might not be obvious is that this question-answer relationship is reflective of the ability to think creatively, critically, and rationally. This sounds nice and, perhaps, plausible, but the process is confounded by other murky constructs such as epistemology and methodology (Halpern, 1997; Norris, 1992; Paul & Wang, 2012, ch. 5).
With respect to reading (yes, that “R” word, again), asking and answering questions is considered an effective strategy for developing critical readers (National Reading Panel, 2000). Of course, it would be even more effective if the question-answer band facilitated the synthesizing and summarizing of information in texts. Unfortunately, there is much more to the process of synthesizing and summarizing—prior knowledge, motivation, and reader response factors come to mind, for starters. Ironically, one’s prior knowledge and strong biased opinions can impede the act of summarizing and synthesizing information on controversial, emotion-laden topics—at least from the standpoint of decontextualized rationality or decontextualized reasoning (K. E. Stanovich, 2009; K. E. Stanovich & P. J. Stanovich, 2010).
Before proceeding further, let’s briefly discuss the construct of decontextualized rationality, which, as you have probably surmised, is one type of rationality and one that I favor—mostly. This construct is similar to or undergirds the constructs of weak and strong forms of critical thinking (Paul & Wang, 2012, ch. 5). If you do not think there is a construct that can be labeled as relatively unbiased thinking or reasoning, then this discussion will bounce off you like water off a duck’s back. Of course, you can find other scholars who concur with your views (e.g., Johnson, 1992; see also other perspectives in Norris, 1992).
In any case, there is the assumption that an important characteristic of critical thinking (or critico-creative thinking) is the ability to recognize your own fallibility—so to speak—in the process of evaluating and generating evidence. Essentially, you have to weigh the evidence against your own set of beliefs based on your experiences and understandings. Let me put this another way: You have to separate your beliefs from something that is out there—data, information, etc. It is no small feat—and I often worry about this task—to detach your beliefs from the process of evaluating or interpreting arguments (or data and so on). It is equally as challenging to keep your beliefs in check while considering the asking and answering of a range of questions related to the so-called hot topics in our field—cochlear implantation, the use of American Sign Language (ASL) or Cued Speech/Language, among many others. [End Page 477]
K. E. Stanovich (2009) discusses the major types of rationality (instrumental and epistemic), which—in my view—are often related to a form of the standard epistemology that adheres to a type of objective methodology. In other words, an effective critical-thinking approach is the use of the (or a?) scientific method to gather and analyze data and proffer interpretations. I guess you could say there needs to be a match between our rationality and the structure of...