Monday, February 18, 2008

First you need something to "think" about

One of the trendy catch-phrases in education is "critical thinking". For years, traditionalist educators have been shaking their heads in frustration as constructivist educators have tried to get students to "think critically" while simultaneously condemning the memorization and understanding of factual content. For instance, how is one supposed to think critically about the deeper underpinnings of the Civil War without knowing the years it was fought, where it was fought, who was fighting it, and how it was fought? I challenge any of you to walk up to a young person under the age of 25 and see how often they can answer that information correctly.

The Washington Post has an article out today that talks about the challenges of teaching students how to think critically when there is not even an agreed-upon definition of "critical thinking", and there is definite disagreement over whether critical thinking should supplant content memorization or complement it.

As a traditionalist educator who believes that today's students are starved for general knowledge that could help them be more successful in their educational endeavors, I was pleased to see the following passage in the Post article:
Other cognitive psychologists question how effectively critical-thinking skills can be transferred from one subject area to another. They say such skills are developed, in large part, in relation to the content area in which they are acquired.

"You can't do it without the content knowledge," said Robin Lanzi, assistant professor in the Department of Human Science at Georgetown University.

"You may have these fabulous critical-thinking skills, but you don't know when they are appropriate," Willingham said.

"If you think of thought as having two components, you have factual knowledge that you know and the processes that manipulate those facts," he added. "Everyone understands that half is no good when that half is knowledge. People don't seem to understand that it works the other way. Having processes alone doesn't work, either. You can't acquire these processes in the absence of facts."
Now if we could only get these constructivism-worshipping education professors, K-12 teachers, and K-12 administrators out there who refer to the memorization of "mere facts" as "drill and kill" to heed these words.

Good Day to You, Sir


Donalbain said...

As a science teacher, what always strikes me when someone says "critical thinking" is not critical thinking at all. I think that "critical thinking" is one of those code phrases that mean pretty much the opposite of what the words in plain English mean.

Don, American said...

"Critical thinking" as defined by liberal instructors means, "What a horrible country we live in. Our leaders are corrupt, and the rest of the world hates us."

How will they explain the adolation that President Bush is receiving in Africa right now? Even the outrageous Eleanor Clift had to grudgingly give him credit. (Excuse the split infinitive.)

Donalbain said...

In terms of science, what is usually presented as "critical thinking" is regurgitating the same old refuted nonsense about evolution such as "why are there still monkeys?"

And don't worry about split infinitives, that is a nonsense rule that never made sense and was invented by self important, self promoted "experts", and serves no grammatical function.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

funny how the 'experts' never realize that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. You need to have some 'drill and kill', some lecture, some discussion etc... to have the best chance to reach the most kids.


Darren said...

There's a difference between criticism and critical thinking, a difference our friends on the left should ponder.

Also, which ancient philosopher said this: "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous"?