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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The Story of.. Critical Doubt

I like to have a healthy portion of critical doubt in all my thinking... that when I think I do not assume that this is the only possible, or the correct way to reflect on a problem, a theory or an experience.

"Research is a habit of mind, an attitude that can be developed or neglected. it is a response to curiosity and doubt. It constructs new knowledge, makes for critical thinking and is part of citizenship and democracy. Like everything else about Reggio, research is not a solitary activity, but a process of relationships and dialogue" Carla Rinaldi and Peter Moss

Looking at what a competent child is... and using the book a Hundred Languages as a source.. this is what I have discovered

a competent child is...

  • fully able to create personal maps for his/her own social.cognitive, affective and symbolic orientation

  • active and critical

  • a child who is "challenging", because s/he produces change and dynamic movement in the systems in which s/he is involved, including the family, the society and the school.

  • A producer of culture, values and rights, competent in living and learning.

  • able to assemble and disassemble possible realities, to construct metaphors and creative paradoxes, to construct his/her own symbols and codes while learning to decode the established symbols and codes.

  • able to attribute meanings to events and who attempts to share meanings and stories of meanings.

What is meant by a child is critical (and active)... so I decided to look up the word critical

Merriam-Webster online dictionary... (I also checked other dictionaries, not just one)

Definition of critical 1 a : inclined to criticize severely and unfavorably 

  • His critical temperament cost him several friends.

b : consisting of or involving criticism

  • critical writings

also : of or relating to the judgment of critics

  • The play was a critical success.

c : exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation 

  • critical thinking

  • critical commentary on the mayor's proposal

d : including variant readings and scholarly emendations 

  • critical edition

2 a : of, relating to, or being a turning point or specially important juncture 

  • critical phase

 : such as  (1) : relating to or being the stage of a disease at which an abrupt change for better or worse may be expected; also : being or relating to an illness or condition involving danger of death 

  • critical care

  • a patient listed in critical condition

(2) : relating to or being a state in which or a measurement or point at which some quality, property, or phenomenon suffers a definite change 

  • critical temperature

  • critical waterfowl habitat

  • a component critical to the operation of a machine

c : being in or approaching a state of crisis 

  • critical shortage

  • critical situation

d : crucialdecisive

  • critical test

3 a : of sufficient size to sustain a chain reaction —used of a mass of fissionable material 

  • critical mass

b : sustaining a nuclear chain reaction 

  • The reactor went critical.

 So what kind of "critical" is a competent child?

As I read the definitions of critical I rather like the idea of critical thinking being something along the lines of "being a turning point or specially important juncture", the idea that the thought process are in a state of change, that we are learning and that our thoughts are at the point of moving from one accepted idea to another... or an alteration of one, or the realisation that another idea is not somehow right... is the child in a state of change?

Or is the child exorcising judicious evaluation that can make it difficult for the adults, as the child will not just accept the status quo, but asks questions until they feel they have found an acceptable answer, come close to their truth? I hope it is not the negative definitions where the child severely criticises, or is in danger...

This makes me reflect on my post "Story about a box" where explore the idea of children being forced into a uniform school-box where all have to think alike... children who think differently or outside of that box will be considered a challenge from the perspective of that school system. I also think that these pandemic/post-pandemic times we are at a juncture... we have learned many new things about learning, about well-being, about play... and we currently have the opportunity to make changes to the early years and school system for the benefit of social justice, well-being and all children being able to access and plan their learning journey.

Over the years, as part of working philosophically with children, I have thought a lot about thinking, often together with others...

I am of the opinion that there are many forms of thinking... just as there are many forms of learning and many forms of play... this all ties in with the hundred languages for me...

some forms of thinking (other than critical thinking):

  • reflective

  • empathic

  • creative

  • prejudice

  • biased

  • distorted

  • partial

  • uninformed

  • abstract

  • divergent

  • meta

Listening is another way of thinking and there will be more ways of thinking too... but I do not want to write an exhaustive list... just show there are many ways to think - including daydreaming - but is that really thinking, or storytelling in the mind? Do we think critically or is it critical thinking? Do we need to phrase it thinking reflectively instead of reflective thinking... ? Or do we just call it reflection? How does reflection differ from thinking? What impact does that have on our perception of what that kind of thinking means? Does how we say it impact how we do it?

To find out more about what critical thinking means... check out this The Foundation for Critical Thinking as they go into much greater detail and with several thinkers sharing their definition of critical thinking... far beyond my thinking capacity at this present moment... 

In a dialogue with Tom Drummond several years ago, he said

"... words we use in our dialogue can have a shared meaning because we have a relationship. The long relationship with your best friends sharpens the communication. When we use words outside of relationships, it is different."


"This is, as Carla says, all in a context of relationships and dialogue. I would add trust. It is also in a context of documentation. We have artefacts to ground meaning-making. Artefacts we can revisit. Relationships that evolve. New meanings can be made in each here and now. If we can look back at ourselves over time, re-co-construct the meaning of our shared history, we then share that, too. This is the meta-cognition where we are up another stair in the path of life.The Municipal Preschools and Infant Centres of Reggio Emilia, Italy, have gone up many stairs."

And it is so true, relationships are incredibly important in our dialogues and our understanding of how we use words... it is why we need to build trusting relationships with the children and with our colleagues... it is why we need enable the children to trust each other - so that their dialogues and play have the element of truth, their communication is of a kind that they can all participate in and all understand. And when we have the understanding we can push our thinking further... we continue to go up the stairs, if we are to use Tom's analogy.

I think, though, that thinking is often more cyclical... or in waves... or sometimes walking up the "down-escalator" and it feels like you are going no-where... or a "trapped on the merry-go-round" feeling.

But thinking with others can help us start in the right direction, or get off that merry-go-round to pursue new thoughts...

I also think we have to be aware that there are many of these so called "stairs" - while the municipal preschools in Reggio Emilia might have gone up many stairs in their documentation, their collegial dialogues etc... I know they have not gone up as many stairs within outdoor learning or norm-awareness (anti-bias) as Sweden has and other countries ... and I think this is so important to reflect on... that we all have so much to offer each other because we have all been focusing on climbing different stairs... that we need to listen to all the stories... that our world is complex.

We need to be open to the thinking of others - to allow our own thinking to evolve - we need to be aware of our own thinking and whether our thinking is limited by a need to meet an agenda or whether it is open enough to explore an idea completely... we also need to think about do we know when we are open or when we are limited by an agenda... how do we learn to recognise how open feels?

I felt working philosophically with children made me so much more aware of my own thinking and my own participation and how I shared my thinking and was more aware of the children's thinking - and how their thinking connected with each other and with things we had experienced etc etc. I realised just how much power my thinking had over the group not just when I was sharing my ideas and thoughts... but also when I thought I was not participating... my non-participation says something too (why not at this moment, and why at other moments) - my body language and facial expressions can give lots away about what I think... I do not have a good poker face...

Being aware of my power in the group was fuel for thinking about how I could empower the children...

But back to the exploration of critical thinking...

it all started in a dialogue about what is "scaffolding" in practical terms - what do you actually do to scaffold...? which developed into a question - what does encouragement mean...? how do you actually do that...?  that lead to support and what is that...? that lead to the critical thinking exploration

I so enjoy exploring words - digging deeper in my own understanding, definitions and interpretations of words... learning from how other define words... we create new relationships with words that allow us to gain a more nuanced understanding of dialogues in the future... as a word used in a sentence is no longer just a word it is a symbol for a whole lot of of meaning-making.

It kind of reminds me of attempting to read James Joyce "Ullyses" - there were times when I struggled to follow, well just didn't get it... and there were times when I got it because I realised he was using one or two words to describe a situation that would require pages normally... because he would refer to something from another piece of literature or something... for example there was one sentence that only made sense if you had read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar... because without that knowledge the sentence just contained some random words in it that did not relate to the previous pages... It made me realise how much I must have missed because there were probably loads of these "hidden" meanings. Would having a dialogue and relationship with James Joyce been a key to understanding the book due to creating a common language?

and how can we build relationships with each other, with the children, so that there are no hidden meanings, but open dialogues with respect and all participants are valued.

Below are some quotes about thinking...

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