By: Megan Prats
“Bias: A mental leaning or inclination. We must clearly distinguish two different senses of the word ’’bias’’. One is neutral, the other negative. In the neutral sense we are referring simply to the fact that, because of one’s point of view, one notices some things rather than others, emphasizes some points rather than others, and thinks in one direction rather than others. This is not in itself a criticism because thinking within a point of view is unavoidable. In the negative sense, we are implying blindness or irrational resistance to weaknesses within one’s own point of view or to the strength or insight within a point of view one opposes. Fairminded critical thinkers try to be aware of their bias (in sense one) and try hard to avoid bias (in sense two). Many people confuse these two senses. Many confuse bias with emotion or with evaluation, perceiving any expression of emotion or any use of evaluative words to be biased (sense two). Evaluative words that can be justified by reason and evidence are not biased in the negative sense.” – The Critical Thinking Community
The aforementioned description of bias is a good one but parts of it are contradictory to the nature of problem-solving that the 2learn® Method supports, such as:
Because critical thinking is the gateway to the infinite realm of knowledge and the infinite realm of knowledge houses biased and unbiased conclusions, bias is not necessarily unavoidable. Now, within the student’s conscious self, bias is unavoidable as the student, even though having access to the infinite realm of knowledge via her critical thinking skills, can never consider all knowledge when making a decision because the human mind is not capable of such things. However, what if the idea that the student generates comes not from the student, but from the infinite realm of knowledge itself? Well, in that case, the infinite realm of knowledge has instilled in the student its conclusion, which can take all things into consideration – bias or not. An example of the infinite realm of knowledge acting on behalf to the student would be Creativity in the Moment. Thus, in this case, bias is avoidable! But, for reality’s sake, bias is generally unavoidable in the problem- solving process.
Yes and no. As we’ve seen in the Logic and Reason and The Lack Thereof articles, the critical thinker does not avoid a tool holistically but instead understands the pros and cons of the tools at her disposal and applies the most appropriate tool depending on the situation. Thus, if the problem calls for it, biased thinking can be the right avenue for the critical thinker to walk on. For instance, say the student is speaking Spanish with a group of old Cuban people. These old Cuban people look at the opening of relations between the United States and Cuba in a negative light because of their biased viewpoints based on their past. The student, being aware of this bias, decides to construct sentences in Spanish that support their bias so that the old Cuban people do not become offended by her words. Thus, if the student didn’t use bias in this case, the student might lose out on an opportunity to learn more about the Cuban culture and practice her Spanish.
However, critical thinking does imply that bias should be minimized as critical thinking tends to seek more objective, fact-based, conclusions. Thus, where the Critical Thinking Community touches on the negative of bias, they are spot on as biased thinking can lead the student to poor conclusions. In general, bias should be avoided because it normally causes more harm than good to the student’s answers, but at times, it can be a tremendous asset.
Bias is not necessarily unavoidable nor is it something that the student will always want to avoid. In general, the student needs to understand bias, be able to identify it in her thinking, weigh the pros and cons of utilizing it, and then apply or not apply it to her problem-solving.
© Megan Prats 2015