Critical Thinking through a Multicultural Lens: Cultural Challenges of Teaching Critical Thinking

  • Maha Bali


When I first started doing research about critical thinking (CT), I had not realized how contested a notion (Atkinson 1997) it was, even though it is widely accepted as an important goal of (at least Western) higher education (Barnett 1997; Norris 1995). Most people agree that critical thinking is essential for citizens to participate actively in a democracy (Brookfield 1987; Johnson and Morris 2010; ten Dam and Volman 2004). There is also a need for citizens to criticize the systems and hierarchies in which they live, whether academic or corporate, whether in a democratic state or not, questioning and challenging even the structures within which we conduct critical thinking. Some scholars claim that critical thinking is culturally biased (e.g., Atkinson 1997; Fox 1994; Norris 1995), which is a view I initially dismissed, because the ideas and practices of CT exist in my own Egyptian Islamic culture. Some scholars argue that viewing critical thinking as distant from non-Anglo (i.e., non-English speaking) cultures is a symptom of misunderstandings (Ennis 1998), and even ignorance of, and condescension toward non-Westerners’ capacities for rational thinking (Nussbaum 1997). Claims of cultural distance or difference are often presented under the guise of cultural sensitivity, while hiding reductionist and deficit-oriented tendencies (Zamel 1997).


Critical Thinking Cultural Capital Online Discussion Linguistic Ability Islamic Scholarship 
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© Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett 2015

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  • Maha Bali

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