Newington College

Critical thinking and ethics take centre stage

Critical thinking and ethics take centre stage

Visionary astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, ‘We make our planet significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers’.

His words are captured on an outsized banner that now hangs outside Newington College’s first Critical Thinking and Ethics Quarters, housed in the Tupou Centre. They are a constant reminder to students that thinking is no light pursuit: this one sentence perhaps encapsulates not only why we think, also the reverberation of our thoughts on how we see the world.

Every school strives to educate its students, to provide opportunities to learn broadly and deeply. Newington’s focus on critical thinking – the capacity to question, listen, explore, shift and perhaps change your view – takes those aims a significant step further.

In the years to come it will become a centrepiece of the fearless liberal education the College provides.

The Quarters are the first physical manifestation of Newington’s plan to become the home of critical and ethical thinking.

Behind the scenes, each subject has been reviewed to make sure it encourages students to think with open minds and clear eyes. Challenging accepted positions and ideas with rational and considered arguments isn’t just accepted – it’s encouraged.

Eventually, a Centre for Critical Thinking and Ethics will be built in the space currently occupied by Concordia. It will house an institution that is not just for Newington but for the benefit of schools everywhere.

The Quarters (and ultimately the Centre for Critical Thinking and Ethics) will be headed by Co-directors Dr Britta Jensen and Dr Jeremy Hall.

According to Dr Jensen, the aim is to put student agency and student thinking at the heart of classroom practice.

‘Curiosity is fundamental to ignite the learning process,’ she said. ‘When students’ curiosity is sparked, we begin the process of inquiry. Curiosity shows itself in the questions our students ask and as such, professional discussions of late have centred around how to promote and nurture student questioning. After all, as physicist Richard Feynman says, “There is no learning without having to pose a question.”’

Jeremy Hall agrees that curiosity is at the centre of critical thinking.

‘With curiosity comes open-mindedness – an openness to new ideas, an openness to other people, an openness to the world beyond the classroom. The Centre for Critical Thinking and Ethics is committed to creating opportunities for students to engage in respectful dialogue, to learn from others’ ideas and perspectives and explore the pressing issues facing young Australians in the 21st century.
‘With curiosity comes the ability to see beyond the obvious, interrogate sources, be aware of bias and flawed reasoning. These are skills that are being taught deliberately and explicitly in our new critical thinking courses.’

Workshops, classes, professional development and strategy meetings are already being held in the Critical Thinking and Ethics Quarters. It will also be used to road test what the full centre will ultimately need and look like. Our very popular ethics lecture series – a feature of the College for 11 years – will be an integral part of it.

Headmaster Michael Parker has been a driving force behind the focus on critical thinking at Newington.

‘Critical thinking and ethics have been identified time and time again as fundamental skills and values for any school worth its salt. This is never more so in a century in which AI is gaining ever more traction, the existential issues of a heating planet confront us, and our faith in how we know things totters.
‘We can’t change the whole world. But we can change our tiny corner of the world for the better by helping our students think critically and ethically and helping them be good.’

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2022 edition of News.