Bruce Deitrick Price
It's time to think critically about critical thinking
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By Bruce Deitrick Price
December 11, 2018

The goal of education has always been to achieve critical thinking.

Needless to say, this involves a two-step process: first, students learn a great deal about a topic, whether in history, science, art, or anything else; then students 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 supposed 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 student 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. You probably want to ask What's the point? Because you and I know that our educrats are immune to satire. Saturday Night Live could devote an evening to comedy about the egregiousness of our progressive educators, but the educators would never get the joke. These are people who tell ignorant students that a class will now engage in Critical Thinking, and then they stand there and pretend that it is happening. (Quite the opposite is the reality.)

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, third grade, and the fourth grade, and the fifth grade. As children enter middle school, more reflection is appropriate. Teachers can ask questions that encourage students to analyze, to compare, and contrast. Meanwhile, more and more facts are learned. At this point we can honestly say these 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.

Knowledge makes critical thinking possible. Genuine critical thinking, in turn, makes the student want more knowledge. Let's say a teacher picks any three cars, or any three movies, or any three pieces of art, and tells the students: "First, pick your favorite, your second favorite, and your least favorite. Then make a case for your choices. Persuade the world that you are right." Isn't that exactly what highly-paid critics and pundits do all day? This is genuine critical thinking. As students try to defend their choices, they will need to find more information to support their arguments. That's pretty much how education is supposed to work.

PS: Sham critical thinking is especially rampant in Reform Math. The gimmick is that children who can't do simple arithmetic are learning "to think critically about math." Ponder this: the kids cannot multiply and divide but they are "thinking critically" about math. What can that possibly mean? For more on this topic, please see "36: The Assault on Math."

(Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is "Saving K-12 – What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?" His education site is Improve- Education.org. )

© Bruce Deitrick Price

 

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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site Improve-Education.org (founded in 2005). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way.

Price's literary site is Lit4u.com .

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