Stander discusses Russell's claim that schooling all too often encourages the herd mentality, with its fanaticism and bigotry, failing to develop what Russell calls a "critical habit of mind".
The threat of indoctrination, the importance of individual judgment, and the prevalence of fanatical opinions all point up the need for what nowadays is called critical thinking; and Russell's work is valuable to anyone who wants to understand what this kind of thinking entails and why it matters in education.
The ideal of critical thinking is, for Russell, embedded in the fabric of philosophy, science, rationality, liberalism and education, and his views emerge as he discusses these and other themes.
Russell's conception of critical thinking involves reference to a wide range of skills, dispositions and attitudes which together characterize a virtue which has both intellectual and moral aspects, and which serves to prevent the emergence of numerous vices, including dogmatism and prejudice.
For Russell, the ideal is embedded in the fabric of philosophy, science, liberalism and rationality, and this paper reconstructs Russell's account, which is scattered throughout numerous papers and books.Such critical skills, grounded in knowledge, include: (i) the ability to form an opinion for oneself, which involves, for example, being able to recognize what is intended to mislead, being capable of listening to eloquence without being carried away, and becoming adept at asking and determining if there is any reason to think that our beliefs are true; (ii) the ability to find an impartial solution, which involves learning to recognize and control our own biases, coming to view our own beliefs with the same detachment with which we view the beliefs of others, judging issues on their merits, trying to ascertain the relevant facts, and the power of weighing arguments; (iii) the ability to identify and question assumptions, which involves learning not to be credulous, applying what Russell calls constructive doubt in order to test unexamined beliefs, and resisting the notion that some authority, a great philosopher perhaps, has captured the whole truth.Russell reminds us that "our most unquestioned convictions may be as mistaken as those of Galileo's opponents." There are numerous insights in Russell's account which should have a familiar ring to those acquainted with the recent critical thinking literature.Chomsky, for example, reminds us of Russell's humanistic conception of education, which views the student as an independent person whose development is threatened by indoctrination.Woodhouse, also appealing to the concept of growth, points out Russell's concern to protect the child's freedom to exercise individual judgment on intellectual and moral questions.Second, critical thinking requires being critical about our own attempts at criticism.Russell observes, for example, that refutations are rarely final; they are usually a prelude to further refinements.More needs to be said, however, to establish the significance of Russell's conception of critical thinking, which anticipates many of the insights in contemporary discussions and avoids many of the pitfalls which recent writers identify.Some factors, perhaps, obscure a ready appreciation of Russell's contribution.Russell's name seldom appears in the immense literature on critical thinking which has emerged in philosophy of education over the past twenty years.Few commentators have noticed the importance of Russell's work in connection with any theory of education which includes a critical component.