Assumptions are a primary component of context. Assumptions are those ideas or values that we ‘take for granted’ and do not question. To be smart thinkers we must recognise the assumptions that surround us (including our own) and that influence every argument and explanation. Reasoning involves making connections between our ideas about the world, expressing them as linked claims, and constructing a text to express that knowledge.
Obviously this reasoning is a conscious process, but it also draws upon a background of implicit or assumed connections and structures. As we grow up and learn about our environment (from parents, school, and so on), all sorts of connections are made for us and become embedded in our minds, so that we do not even realise we are relying on these structures when we think. For example: In the nineteenth century,
Australian children were often warned that the ‘black bogeyman’ would get them if they were naughty. This apparently mild threat created an association in children’s minds between ‘Blacks’ (indigenous Australians) and something dangerous. Is it any wonder, then, that when these children grew into adults they continued to act and think about indigenous Australians in extremely racist ways?
What makes assumptions dangerous is not their content (unlike the previous example, the content of assumptions may actually be correct) but, rather, that they are not consciously considered and tested to see if they are correct. What matters first is to be conscious of the assumption so we can ask ‘is this true?’. Smart thinkers must be capable of understanding how each of these four levels of language use relates to one another, and of how to write good statements, link them together to make a text, and consider the contextual factors that bear upon their text