Taking criticism seriously

“Criticism is not like a fluid you can pour into a mind, and the mind is not like a bucket able to passively receive whatever you want to pour in. As Karl Popper said, there is no such thing as instruction from without.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge


There is no growth of knowledge, no improvement, no progress, no learning, without criticism. 🧠

“Yay criticism! Let’s seek it out! Question everything!” 😃

It is so exciting to discover the joy of questioning hitherto unexamined assumptions and the like. Problems that once seemed impossible to solve can suddenly seem easy to solve. All very interesting and fun. 🤸‍♀️

“Yay criticism! Let’s do more of it! Everyone needs to adopt a critical attitude and be open to criticism—people evading criticism is holding up progress! Come on, people! Too many people can’t take criticism!” 👀

Hang on a minute. It is true that there are antirational memes in effect blocking the creative critical thinking that might otherwise have created improvements. However, mind-reading accusations like “evading criticism” and “can’t take criticism” may indicate a misapprehension about the nature of the mind and of criticism.

Criticism is not like a fluid you can pour into a mind, and the mind is not like a bucket able to passively receive whatever you want to pour in. As Karl Popper said, there is no such thing as instruction from without.

The mind actively creates conjectures and criticises.

You can’t even pour criticism into your own mind, let alone someone else’s.

You might offer your mind more access to more sources of information that your mind might find interesting, fun and valuable in its creative critical thinking, but you can’t just force the criticism in by an act of will whether your mind likes it or not. The mind has a creative critical mind of its own, as it were. It is not a passive bucket into which you can pour knowledge.

When parents discover the crucial role criticism plays in knowledge creation, they sometimes leap to the conclusion that they should give their children more criticism to help them learn. Some conclude that children need to be put in schools having a focus on teaching critical thinking. Or they send their children to intense bootcamp style schools promising plentiful critical cramming in an atmosphere of academic rigour. “It’s all for their own good! In this family we value criticism! If more families had a tradition of criticism instead of tiptoeing around their kids, that would be better for the kids!”

Similarly, when parents discover Taking Children Seriously, they sometimes respond to doubts they have—say, about a particular practical suggestion given here—by self-coercively overriding their existing contrary idea (that remains painfully active in their mind), as opposed to actually resolving the conflict in their mind. “These people know something. So their criticism must be right whatever my doubts. They said I need to do x, so even if I have to grit my teeth to bear it, that is what I am going to do. Far too many parents evade criticism. We all need to be open to criticism for the children’s sake.”

Whether you are trying to force this so-called ‘openness to criticism’ in your own mind or on someone else (such as a child), it is not taking criticism seriously. It is creating a semblance of taking criticism seriously that actively interferes with actual criticism through which knowledge could be being created.

It is saying to the mind: “Who cares about what matters to you? Stop resisting this hallowed authority’s instruction from without! Suppress your own criticism. Uncritically passively receive whatever instruction the authority is trying to pour in.”

So creativity is being diverted from what was actually of interest to the person by their own lights, to solving this new unwelcome problem raised by this attempted coercive pouring of unwanted instruction into the mind. In treating learning as a mechanical, mindless bucket-filling process, coercive education actively interferes with learning, which is inherently actively creative. And it is not actually taking the valuableness of criticism seriously.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2024, ‘Taking criticism seriously’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/taking-criticism-seriously

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