Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Critical Thinking Jewell

For more than 60 years now I have had an affectionate relationship with Jewell. No, this Jewell is not a woman; rather it is how William Jewell College (in Liberty, Mo.) is often referred to.
The Campus of Achievement
William Jewell College was founded in 1849 and named for the Columbia, Mo., medical doctor who was a major donor of the needed funds for building a college on top of a large hill in the small town of Liberty.
June and I graduated from Jewell 110 years after its founding, transferring there after graduating from junior college and getting married in May 1957. In time, all of our four children would also graduate from Jewell.
Through the years I had the opportunity of teaching some courses at Jewell when on missionary furlough from Japan and after retirement.
While the college motto was, and remains, Deo Fisus Labora (Trust in God and Work), Jewell was long touted as the Campus of Achievement, and for 75 years selected graduates have been awarded citations at Achievement Day ceremonies each year.
(I was the probably undeserving recipient of one of the Citation for Achievement awards in 1982.)
The Critical Thinking College
While William Jewell College will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Celebration of Achievement from Feb. 27 to March 1, 2019, a new registered trademark, “The Critical Thinking College,” is now regularly used. 
I have mixed feelings about Jewell’s new slogan. It’s not that I am against critical thinking. Far from it. But I am not sure it is distinctive enough. Colleges and universities all over the country seek to foster critical thinking, as they should.
But if Jewell can actually achieve nurturing a high percentage of her students to become critical thinkers, that would be an achievement of major importance.
What is Critical Thinking?
Recently I read Steven Schuster’s 2018 bookThe Critical Thinker. The first chapter of that helpful book is “What is Critical Thinking?” In response to this basic question, Schuster writes,
Critical thinking occurs when we ask ourselves (and others) questions like “How do you know that?” or “How did you reach that conclusion?” or “What evidence supports this theory?” or “Are there any other possible explanations or alternatives that haven’t been considered yet?”  
Critical thinkers rarely follow a gut feeling. [What does this say about DJT?] They use logic and reasoning to reach their conclusions, rather than letting themselves be guided by their emotions (p. 11).
Back when I was a student at Jewell, there was no use of the term “critical thinking.” But I am confident I learned much about thinking critically then, especially in the Philosophy of Religion class, about which I have written previously (see here).
Further, I am happy to say that my four children are, by and large, critical thinkers. That is not solely because they are Jewell graduates, but the education they got there surely helped them hone the important skills of critical thinking.
Wednesday evening, we attended a meeting at which Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, who has been the president of Jewell since 2016, spoke about the college as it is now and as she hopes it will become in the near future.
“The Critical Thinking College” has been a primary emphasis of Dr. MacLeod Walls, and that emphasis, among others, is being credited with the recovery of the college from several years of some decline.
The picture below is one I took of June with Dr. MacLeod Walls on Wednesday evening. We are happy to be supporters of Jewell, her president, and the emphasis on critical thinking as the college celebrates its 170th anniversary next year.   


  1. Thanks, Leroy. I always have lots to say on your blog when I have semester's-end grading to do (yes, I'm still doing a few adjunctive courses). I won't comment on the relationship between the two college monikers and the need for strong advertising or the implications that either has for a traditionally church-related college. All are worthy conversations. I will say, though, that the first departmental conversation I participated in thirty-two years ago between religion department and administration (president, dean and chaplain) concerned "critical thinking" pedagogy. So, the internal language at least is 32 years old.

    What I find helpful with 18-22-years-old is limiting discussions to aspects of critical thinking. I like to talk about developing self-awareness of how one is thinking. One aspect of this development, in my opinion, is awareness of one's own cognitive biases, not the least of which is confirmation bias--the tendency to search for, focus upon only the information that confirms one's existing opinions. Mastering that bias alone could take us a long way toward openness to developing the processes of critical reflection and thought. Theologians and philosophers, especially in the academy (required to teach courses in certain disciplines), are particularly susceptible to confirmation bias. Would you agree?

    1. Milton, thanks to much for your comments. Your presence at Jewell over the past decades certainly fostered my continued appreciation for the college.

      I did not know, but was not surprised to learn, that critical thinking was being talked about internally as far back as 32 years ago.

      Well, I don't know if theologians and philosophers are "particularly susceptible" to confirmation bias, for that seems to be a bias common to almost all people. In the book that I introduced in the article, the author writes, "Cognitive biases are connected to critical thinking. One of the most common ones is confirmation bias. This is the bias we all harbor within us that makes us think we're always right" (p. 25).

      Although those terms were not used, dealing with those biases was part of the emphasis in my Philosophy of Religion class at Jewell (under Murray Hunt; was he still there when you started teaching at Jewell?). And this whole matter was also of central concern in Michael Polanyi's work "Personal Knowledge"--and I wrote an article on his thinking during the year I was teaching at Jewell in 1976-77. (That article was a chapter in the book "Science, Faith, and Revelation​,​" 1979, edited by Robert E. Patterson.​)​

  2. Milton, I am always interested in your thinking. I was sorry to hear that your classroom time with students is so reduced now. I hope you will continue to be a presence among Jewell students as long as your tottering legs can climb the hill.
    A remark I wanted to add to the blog was about our Jewell product son, Ken, who teaches history in Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD. He engages the students interactively, making them look at decisions that were made in history from different angles, thinking critically about what they might have done.

  3. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Dan O'Reagan, who has lived in Louisiana for many years now but whom I knew as an older missionary colleague in Japan.

    "Thanks, Leroy. It is good to read of your affection for Jewell. I was glad to learn it referred to your college, and June loved her too, and your children do too. However, since it is in Missouri however, I am surprised that it did not refer in some way to the Missouri Mule, and stubbornness. (That is supposed to be a joke, so I hope you have a sense of humor, will take it for no more than that).

    "I still have and use two book that were used as textbooks at Jewell. The books are by Dr. Hester, 'The Heart of Hebrew History,' and 'The Heart of the New Testament.' I have always wished that I had, had the privilege of studying under a man like him when I was in college. You are blessed."

    1. The Mules are University of Central Missouri's mascot - just down the road a piece. Thank's for the mention of mules - my grandfather was a union teamster with his mule team.

  4. Thanks, Dan, for reading and responding to this morning's blog article.

    The sports teams of Jewell are called Cardinals. The teams of the University of Central Missouri are the Mules. But no offense taken. When June and I talked with Marion Moorhead at Ridgecrest before we went to Japan the first time, he gave us what I still think was interesting advice: he said, "Be stubborn." My response: that will not be hard, for I am from Missouri.

    Thanks for mentioning Dr. Hester--for the meeting June and I attended Wednesday evening was at the "Hester House," as it is still called. It is owned by a private individual now, although Jewell owned the house for about 20 years after Dr. Hester's death in 1983. In 1976-77, the year of our second furlough, we lived in a "missionary home" which was directly across the street from the Hester House, and our son Keith, who was a freshman at Jewell that year, often took boxes of Dr. Hester's books to the post office for him.

    When June and I were students at Southwest Baptist College and took the required Bible classes there, Dr. Hester's books were used as the textbooks, so I didn't have Dr. Hester as a teacher at Jewell. (I didn't major in religion/Bible.) But I did get to know him personally and still have a pleasant image of him as a humble, sweet-spirited man.

  5. I have several of family and friends who attended there and went on to very productive lives. One is my wife.

    Having graduated from a major state school, I look back at how little I learned from my tenured professors. The best were the adjuncts who lived and knew what they were teaching, and were much more open to questions. The best were at the community colleges. Those who taught me to think and question were my high school instructors, most of whom had advanced degrees. I am grateful to them, and also for teaching me to see my biases. Most of my professors just wanted me to regurgitate.

    I hope Wm Jewell College can regain its footing. It certainly has a good facility and history.

  6. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky shares these comments about Jewell:

    "My daughter Elizabeth (Hinson-Hasty) did a B.A. at Jewell and has had a very successful academic career. She is now Professor of Theology and chair of the theology department at Bellarmine University here in Louisville and has published several books. William Jewell gave her a good start."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dr. Hinson.

      A few days ago I saw something about your daughter in connection with an academic meeting and/or a book she had written. I was happy to learn then more about her successful academic career--and I know you must be proud of her.

      As your daughter (and all four of my children), a very large percentage of Jewell graduates go on to get graduate degrees.

  7. My daughter Karen sent the following brief comments for posting here:

    "I enjoyed your blog & comments posted so far.

    "I've always been grateful for the education I received at Jewell. It is quite a proud tradition for our family!

    "Glad to hear that Jewell is doing well under the leadership of the new president!"

  8. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who now lives in Chicago but who lived in the Kansas City area for many years:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for sharing your comments about William Jewell College, which has an excellent reputation.

    "As much as some of my freethinking friends would hate to admit it, many religiously-affiliated colleges and universities do an excellent job of teaching critical thinking skills, as all colleges and universities should do.

    "Reversing declines at private colleges and universities is a challenging task. I wish Dr. Walls all the best in her efforts."

  9. I am preparing to write a book on Critical Thinking for the English as a Second Language Classroom, because this area is often given lip service in language textbooks, but there has been surprisingly little in the way of a systematic treatment of this subject. I would be interested in learning about the dynamics that led up to the new William Jewell slogan. Thanks also for the reference to Schuster's book, 'The Critical Thinker'. I'll check this one out.

  10. Confirmation bias is not just a philosophy and religion issue. Science has had great challenges with it and has developed complex systems such double-blind tests and duplication of research in an attempt to limit the effects of confirmation bias. In a double-blind test neither the subjects nor the testers know who is getting the material being tested, and in duplication, other researchers set out to completely duplicate who testing regimes. Small errors can easily allow contamination by confirmation bias, and duplication efforts often cast questions on the original research. Not surprisingly, who funds research appears to be strongly associated with the results of the research. This is a constant battle. I am glad Jewell is training students to be aware of this issue in their own lives. Being aware of confirmation bias is an important part of walking humbly before God.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Craig.

      Although I doubt he used the words "confirmation bias," that idea was part of what Michael Polanyi (whom I mentioned above) wrote about. He was a physical scientist, but he came to realize that science is not nearly as objective as most people tend to think. As you correctly point out, scientists have their confirmation bias also.

  11. I arrived on The Hill 44 years ago and regardless of where I have lived around the globe...I never really left campus. The education certainly served me well but, quite frankly, it is the collection of relationships that propel me daily. My two mentors in life were Gary Phelps and David O. Moore. To anybody who knew these two souls...well, I need not elaborate; you probably agree. Nevertheless, the education Jewell is providing these days is better than ever and the quality of students I encounter are better than I ever was! Despite some really tough times ahead for Higher Education in general, and Jewel is not immune to those challenges, our best days are still in front of us. It is always a great day to be a Cardinal