\\\"Critical Thinking\\\" Is Often Just a Dumb Slogan
Apr 7, 2009 Learning Methodology 2414 Views
Needless to say, this involves a two-step process: first, students learn a great deal about a topic, whether in history, science or art; then they learn to arrange the information in new ways, to set one fact against another, to find new insights among this knowledge.
Not anymore. Today's educators are in a hurry; they don't bother with the first step. They jump directly to step two. In this scenario, students who know nothing are expected to talk intelligently about it. What absurdity.
Having just heard about X, can you discuss X? For example, the Ottoman Empire, its rise and fall? If you are like me, you know nothing about this complex subject. We will seem completely goofy if we discuss it. Talk about plunging self-esteem. Try chatting about the Ottoman Empire when you know nothing about it.
Far from empowering our students, this upside-down approach just makes them feel foolish and inadequate.
Today's educators have many dogmas, perhaps the chief of which is that students need not memorize (that is, know) anything. Everyone must have an empty head. But that's not bad enough. Then the educators want to add charade on top of ignorance. Students are suppose to engage in deep and meaningful thinking about all the things they don't know.
My impression is that our educators disdain basics and academics equally. All facts are a nuisance; any knowledge is undesirable. But this approach, even in ed circles, might seem somewhat difficult to defend. So they airbrush on a whole layer of lies and distractions. They commence the cover-up...Look, parents, at all the critical thinking! The creative thinking! Your children are so much more advanced now, so much more liberated. Without all that silly knowledge stuff, today's students can soar! They can see new things, things that no one saw before, because their vision is not obscured by facts.
Sure, I'm being a little satiric. I know you want to ask, What's the point? Because you and I know that our educators are immune to satire. These are people who tell ignorant students that a class will now engage in critical thinking, and then they stand the there and pretend that it is happening. Shazam!
It's probably futile but I want to sketch (if only for parents and children) what should be standard operating procedure. Starting in the first grade, students learn the basics in each subject. This foundation is added to in the second grade, the third-grade, the fourth grade, and the fifth grade. As children enter middle school, more reflection is appropriate. Meanwhile, more facts are learned. At this point we can honestly say that children are engaged in some degree of critical thinking.
The goal, as they move closer to college, is to engage in more and more critical thinking. Students will know what they're doing. If they are genuinely engaged in critical thinking, they will be proud of themselves, they will want to do more. But if the so-called critical thinking is a game whereby schools place camouflage over the ignorance of the student body, the students will know this and they will be ashamed.
Footnote: the author's new book THE EDUCATION ENIGMA explains why our educational establishment is so fond of empty fads.