Critical thinking in a “both ways" context

Before exploring these key questions in relation to the development of critical thinking skills in Indigenous Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students, several features of "both ways" need to be considered. In the first instance, to operate effectively in a "both ways" environment, educators must view different frameworks as coexistent without allowing any single framework to dominate pedagogical design (Hooley 2000, 3). This requires Indigenous Australian ontologies and epistemologies to be afforded equal status with dominant Western ontologies and worldviews.

It also requires an engagement with, and learning from, non-Indigenous staff who have been trained within dominant Western worldviews. For example, in many Indigenous contexts, connections to country and connections within kinship systems are a fundamental part of how individuals identify themselves and their place in the world. Knowledge transfer is a fully integrated part of that so that when a Western eye might simply see a painting or an artwork, that same painting may convey important knowledge about country and the essence of their being to an Indigenous person (Martin 2007). In this example, a painting is a culturally appropriate way to convey that particular knowledge, while an academic essay may not be, so the painting needs to be afforded equal and appropriate status.

In the second instance, as Ellis (1997, 6) identifies, it is worldviews, not a single worldview, that must be considered for there is "neither a single Indigenous way nor a single 'mainstream' way." To work in a "both ways" framework, Indigenous students not only have the challenge of understanding Western worldviews but also a range of other Indigenous world views that differ from their own, again foregrounding the significance of being conscious of cultural variance. It follows that Western-trained lecturers and supervisors with little exposure to different worldviews have even greater challenges, if they wish to effectively provide support to their students. They not only need to be aware of these differing worldviews but also must be able to understand them sufficiently to both use them and/or to guide their students to use them appropriately.

A further complication is that the Indigenous Australian students who are attracted to study within the "both ways" framework may also have views that exist along a continuum between purely Indigenous and purely Western, with the occasional influence of Eastern (Ober and Bat 2007). There are also students who identify as Indigenous that have Afghan, Chinese, or Japanese parents or grandparents, so they may have up to three different influences formulating their approach to thinking.

Nonetheless there are aspects of Indigenous Australian worldviews that have a commonality across many groups and therefore need to be appreciated in any exploration of critical thinking. Christie (cited in Hughes and More 1997) summarized the most common Australian Indigenous worldview as one where the world takes on meaning through the qualities, relationships, and laws laid down in "the dreaming." For a worldview where objects are related, the value of things lies in their quality and relatedness. This is a specific worldview or ideology, which Sharifian (2005) believes has arisen through an image schema of thinking that is a circular or spiral pattern of interconnections of ideas, events, beings and places.

Grieves (2008, 369) explains the interconnectedness or relatedness in the following manner:

When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people say that they have a spiritual connection to the land, sea, landforms, watercourses, the species and plant life, this connection exists through the law developed at the time of creation. Thus each person or specific plant or species is linked to the spirit of creation, and thus to each other.

Since objects are related through their spiritual connectedness rather than their physical properties, the Western concepts of counting and even those of contrast and comparison have little meaning. Accordingly in many Australian Indigenous languages there are few numbers, and frequently few terms, to describe many Western analytical concepts such as contrast and comparison (Hughes and More 1997). These documented differences have caused linguists to argue that systems of knowledge and ways of thinking are embedded in language (McConvell and Thieberger 2001). For example Hamilton (1981, 81) records that "the Burarra language has no single word for 'why' and so the question is so seldom asked by anyone, adult or child, that people have to think carefully before finding an expression for it suitable to the context."

Further she noted that in the early years of childhood much is learnt by imitation and that in the specific group studied, there were appropriate times for acquiring specific types of knowledge. While Harris (1990) also believes that much is learnt by imitation, he also contends that observation and trial and error are important ways of learning, particularly "real life" knowledge. Similarly, Castellano (2000) describes three processes for individual acquisition of traditional Australian Indigenous knowledge: traditional teachings, empirical observations, and spiritual insight. While the latter process might not find a ready match in many recognized Western methods of inquiry, empirical observation involves meticulous observation of natural and cultural phenomena over time, and at first glance it may therefore seem similar to the research processes used by many Western natural scientists. Despite this, Christie (2006, 79) identifies that Indigenous knowledges are responsive, active, continually renewed, and reconfigured, very local and in no way universal. Some of these, and especially the latter two, can be considered features that rarely apply to the knowledge produced by Western means.

It may therefore seem that traditional Indigenous ways of learning about and making sense of the world, and in some instances the lack of the very words and concepts that the Western mind uses to think, create barriers to achieving the simultaneous cultural sustainability and academic success described by Harris (1990, xii). But as indicated, a true "both ways" pedagogic approach allows for reciprocal or two-way learning (Yunupingu 1995, 85) and the acceptance that two or more systems can coexist, at best intertwined but at the very least in parallel. While this has challenging implications for the cultural scholarship and expertise of those trying to teach Indigenous students to think critically, the acquisition of this Western skill will have many wider benefits for Indigenous graduates who wish to participate in, and contribute to, a "both ways" (or truly cross-cultural) world.

 
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