Monday, March 06, 2006

There Is An Important Difference in Learning To Think Critically And Just Plain Being Critical

Sometimes it is hard to find things I feel passionately enough about to put in my two cents. Other times there is so much I have to say, I can't get to it all, today is more like the latter time.

One of my favorite blogs is Michelle Malkin's. Michelle is a died in the wool Neo-conservative, so we don't always agree. However, in reading two posts recently (here and here), I started to germinate an idea about something that I feel passionate about: The manner in which we now engage in public discourse and the importance I place on the ability to think critically and yet act (or better engage) in an appropriate manner.

As I continued to read favorite Blogs, I came across this post at Professor Bainbridge's Blog, a more classically liberal (which is to say conservative with a libertarian streak) read than Malkin's. Bainbridge's posts along with the comments left by reader's (sure wish I could get that many comments on something I wrote)helped me crystallize my column today.

I have come to the decision that, schools are getting better at teaching the 3R's, at the expense of teaching students how to "think."

"What do you mean how to think? Isn't learning math and history thinking."
Yes it requires thinking but that isn't what I am talking about.

"Oh so you are suggesting that teachers teach students what to think, shouldn't that come from a kids parents?"
No I am not suggesting they teach kids what to think, only how to think. How to ask questions. How to criticize and how to think critically.

"Oh so you're like the guy in the Bainbridge post who wants only to rabble rouse and force kids to become "social activists." No again. I am just tired of seeing today's youth walk around like political zombies.

I can't listen to another kid, parody the arguments of his teachers or parents. I see almost no ability to appropriately analyze an issue or statement, to determine the speakers prejudice (or lack or same), or even the validity of the statement. They merely regurgitate. We need to go back to teaching Rhetoric and Debate. There is a reason we call Politics a science. Political actions must be put through the cauldron of critique.

When I was a student I remember being told not to believe everything I read. Nowadays if a kid can't spew back exactly what he read, he can't even begin to pass the test. A part of the problem is that in an age of standardized testing, with an emphasis on higher and higher grades, teachers have very little classroom time for discussion.

A further problem is that, as we teach to the tests, we find that the best answer is the answer the test grades correctly. Be a kid who disagrees and the answer you get from the teacher is that "Your answer is not the best one." Who says? I guess if the question is 2+2=4 then 4 is the best and only answer. However when one is talking about the best reason for the Civil War or the best reason for the Louisiana Purchase, the opinions can differ. It can be even more hairy if we talk about the Impeachment of Clinton, or the reasons for the War in Iraq.

I can remember a day when Seventh and eighth graders could intelligently discuss the 5 freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Now less people can name the five freedom guarantees than can name the 5 main Simpsons characters. Even adults can't do what we could do 30 years ago. (Check out these sad findings.)

You can require memorization of the Bill of Rights, but to really understand them, you need to learn about the people who wrote them. Why they felt they needed them. Is it any wonder why so many citizens are willing to cede their freedom for security (and why that concept sends most attorneys into orbit?)

Concepts of criticism are important. How to evaluate, criticize, disagree, or support are all essential skills an engaged citizenry must possess. Calling each other names, such as Moonbat and Wingnut does not pass as intelligent debate!

Suggesting that state schools do not have to fund professors or research that calls into question the states motives or actions is ridiculous. Does that not suggest that only privately educated people can question the state's authority? Is Bainbridge suggesting that state law schools cannot fund litigation that attacks unfair state programs. Do state law students have less of an interest in public fairness than their private school counterparts. Should we defund scholarships to those students who engage in clinical litigation that attacks the government? Would he suggest that we defund Prosecutor's offices that indict officials for wrongdoing in office because they are attacking the status quo?

Likewise, just as ridiculous is the thought that the only purpose of education is to criticize and attack sound policy in the name of academics or academic freedom.

Students today need to have an intellectual curiosity that causes them to question the status quo. It needs to be nurtured, and in this case school may be the best and safest place for that to happen. If they reject the status quo after they have critiqued it then so be it. IF they decide to accept it, that too is important. They need teachers who can help them to learn how to question not only the status quo, but those that criticize it as well. They require teachers who know how to teach critique and not those that bully students into accepting their viewpoint. (See this sad excuse for a teacher.) I am not saying that the teacher can't have an opinion or even voice it. In fact that can make the exercise more fun. I am suggesting that before he do so, he makes sure that his opinion is stated in such a way that a student does not fear speaking up against the position for fear of being rejected by the teacher. I also suggest that the teacher not suggest that the leader of the free world is the moral equivalent of Adolph Hitler! After all that will just lead to some kid thinking the guy is a Moonbat, and where will that get us?
Post a Comment