Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 115

CRITICAL THINKING I t was a special kind of failure. Of course, members of human terrain teams—sociocultural research teams deployed with U.S. and partner forces in Iraq and Afghanistan—had no monopoly on cognitive rigidity. Nor were all team members guilty of it. But as he stood there in the waning heat of October in Baghdad, Dr. Marcus Griffin, the team’s lead social scientist, found himself confronting an extreme case of rigid thinking. It was 2008, and the team was struggling to come up with recommendations about how to promote reconciliation between Sunni and Shia. Someone recommended that the team should consider interviewing families who had married their sons and daughters across the sectarian divide as a starting point for understanding how families reconciled sectarian differences and tensions. The reasonable assumption was that marriage and family were the basic building blocks of communities, and since Iraqis usually arranged their children’s marriages, knowing how and why some would knit diverse families into a new whole could yield insight. As they discussed the recommendation, one of the team’s analysts, an Arab Christian who had immigrated to the United States after the first Gulf War, quickly spoke up, “Sunna and Shia do not marry each other.” “What do you mean?” Griffin asked. “Of course they do. There is a long history of it.” “Well they don’t do that anymore,” he stated authoritatively. “How do you know?” Griffin asked, knowing that Hussein, the Shia interpreter sitting across the room studying, had married his son to a woman from a Sunni family the previous year. “I’m Iraqi,” said the analyst. “You can ask me anything. I know everything about Iraq.” And there it was: “I know everything about Iraq.” Not only was this trained analyst wrong, but he was so sure of himself that he was not open to new information and, in essence, he was incapable of learning. Good Classes, Poor Results It was displays of this type of rigid, overgeneralization based on knowledge of a small or nonrepresentative sample, or premature acceptance of an idea as fact, coupled with the persistent adherence to a belief even in the face of evidence to the contrary, that MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 caused the Human Terrain System training and education program to reexamine its curriculum, method of instruction, and academic assessment process. Like virtually all Army education programs, the curriculum already included classes in critical thinking skills. Also like most Army education programs, not only did the instructors enjoy teaching the critical thinking classes, but also, for the most part, the students provided very positive feedback about the classes on student surveys. However, despite both instructors and students enjoying the critical thinking classes, many graduates were failing to think critically where it mattered most—on the job. Critical Thinking Education for Complex Cultural Interactions An experimental program quickly created in 2006 in response to a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement ( JUONS), the Army’s Human Terrain System aimed to provide a soc iocultural analysis capability to Army and partner forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program recruited and trained civilian and former military personnel who attended a training program at Fort Leavenworth.1 Individuals would deploy after training, joining teams already embedded in Army or coalition partner staffs. The teams conducted research and interacted with the local peoples to help their military leaders better understand the dynamic and complex societies in their areas of operation. Team members needed effective cross-cultural skills they could apply well beyond a traditional two-dimensional model. They needed to be able to communicate and work effectively with individuals and groups (both homogeneous and heterogeneous) with a wide range of cultural backgrounds, including their own diverse team members, U.S. and coalition military commanders and staffs, host-nation forces, and diverse civilian populations. Team members needed to recognize and interact with numerous individual and collective cultural frameworks, all the while being aware of how their own cognitive lenses and filters influenced their understanding. Success in these complex interactions, illustrated in figure 1, page 110, would depend on applying critical thinking skills. 109