kitchen table math, the sequel: comments needed

Saturday, June 30, 2012

comments needed

No Comment Necessary: Texas GOP’s 2012 Platform Opposes Teaching “Critical Thinking Skills”

I say it's time for somebody out there to think critically about thinking critically.

Critical Thinking Not Possible Without Content Knowledge


Paul Bruno said...

If the Texas GOP was giving good reasons to think critically about "critical thinking", that'd be one thing. This is just ignorant, tin-foil hat stuff, though.

Yes, people are usually confused about what "critical thinking" consists in. But that doesn't mean anybody should be "anti-critical thinking".

Anonymous said...

Would you be as upset if Texas was objecting to Outcome Based Education?

I'd dig more into what they objected to and why, rather than let the team that picked the label control the debate...

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

I support the Texas Republican statement --

I do wish they'd revise for clarity; no one outside of public education knows that the phrase "critical thinking," in K-12, is anti-knowledge and essentially anti-intellectual.

They need simply to say that they oppose any curricula purporting to teach 'critical thinking' in isolation.

Knowledge is the basis of critical thinking.


I wonder how much 'values clarification' schools are teaching these days ....

I have the sense that a lot of schools don't want the conflict that outright values instruction brings (?)

Maybe I'm wrong. In my neck of the woods the conflicts are over the schools' refusal to take knowledge seriously, and to teach knowledge seriously. **That** is the value we're in conflict over.

i.e.: Is Hunger Games OK as a book for 9th grade English?

Parents in my camp think it isn't, and that is the conflict.

Catherine Johnson said...

"teaching critical thinking in isolation" ---- WOW

I think I just came up with a meme.

Amy P said...

"They need simply to say that they oppose any curricula purporting to teach 'critical thinking' in isolation.

"Knowledge is the basis of critical thinking."

That's right. That's the problem--believing that "thinking" is somehow divisible from knowing stuff.

The other thing that gives "critical thinking" a bad rep is that it's seen as code for "thinking critically means learning to arrive at the exact same conclusions as me."

The connection between those two seemingly disparate things (critical thinking as divisible from knowledge vs. critical thinking as learning to mouth conventional wisdom) is that absent a student's having an independent supply of knowledge, they are totally dependent on the teacher for supplying them with the facts that are grist for "critical thinking." Choose the facts and you choose the conclusions of the critical thinking. (It's like getting to decide the agenda for a meeting.) Meanwhile, out in the wide world, there are millions of facts running around on the hoof.

Instructivist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Instructivist said...

I tried to post this brief comment in the NYT but it hasn’t appeared yet:

The indignation exhibited in the [NYT] comments is misplaced. In the bizarre Thoughtworld of educationists nothing is what it appears to be. Being indignant about a ban on "critical thinking" is like being indignant about a ban on "democracy" in The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).

In the Thoughtworld of educationists there is endless prattle about "critical thinking" but this "critical thinking" is taking place in a vacuum. Educationists are notoriously hostile to knowledge. They want "critical thinking" to take place without anything to think about. These so-called higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) are the pretentious upper parts of Bloom's Taxonomy with the lower part (knowledge) typically cut off.

Glen said...

I don't know whether the Texas GOP is objecting to the program of political indoctrination or the deprecation of knowledge, both of which are labeled "critical thinking" by progressives to give themselves political cover, but either way, I'm with the GOP on this one.

On arrival, our school district's new "science specialist" sent a letter home to parents in which she claimed to be specially trained in "progressive education" and "constructivist learning," whose goal for our science classes was, "to instill in students a commitment to defending the environment."

The notion of "critical thinking" was central to her mission, and I happened to see one of her classroom critical thinking tests. It asked, "How many of the following human activities cause global warming? (check all that apply)". Not "are claimed by some to cause" but "cause." Critical thinking apparently consists in regurgitating the approved answers, not pondering the questions, when the answers are provided by a sage who's progressive. The options were such things as "driving cars", "consuming non-local foods", "non-sustainable manufacturing", etc. The right answer from a "critical thinking" perspective was, of course, all of the above.

I wondered at what point knowledge of physics, chemistry, or biology might play a role in the class. Mere knowledge was "fine," but engaging in environmental activism was worth extra credit toward your grade. What about chemistry experiments at home or go see the meteor collection at a museum? Good activities but not relevant to your science grade. What IS applicable to your science grade? Get involved in environmental activism, find examples of non-green behaviors among your neighbors and complain, or participate in an Earth Day activity.

At the end of the year, the top science prize awarded by her was not to the kid who knew the most about physics or chemistry but to the "Most Green" student. The prize was a coffee mug. Just what a 10-yr-old girl needs most, a coffee mug, right? Well, not just any coffee mug. The "science specialist" and expert on "critical thinking" told us from the podium that this mug displayed a very important map of the world that showed "which parts of the world will be under water in 2050." Wow. We already have the map showing where in Appalachia to buy your future beachfront property. It's right there in the shaking hands of the little green girl with the latte. I wonder how many critical thinkers are buying.

Glen said...

And my brother-in-law, a Life Flight helicopter paramedic for years, wanted to get a nursing degree so he could spend more time at home raising his kids. California required nursing students to pass a "critical thinking" class to get their degree. Sounds like a good idea. And who best to teach our nurses to think critically? Dr. House-style clinical pathologists? Physicists? Experts in statistical analysis? No, when mistakes may cost lives, we turn to--the English Department.

So, he took the class from one of the staff marxists and made the mistake of challenging some of her claims. He thought the point of critical thinking was to engage in back-and-forth discussions, reasoning about an issue from various perspectives. BIG mistake.

The critical thinking instructor graded assignments on "insight," which is to say, how much evidence for leftist dogma the student managed to "discover" during an assignment. I begged my brother-in-law to stop analyzing and pretend to experience leftist religious conversion. For the final assignment, which was, inevitably, "to analyze from a marxist-feminist perspective," he did as I suggested, and got an A in the class.

But not just an A, but a gushing letter from the instructor about how utterly inspiring it was to see the light of understanding finally dawning in his formerly benighted middle-aged, white, male brain. In the end, her urging him to "think more critically" had enabled him to see the "class contradictions" and "injustice inherent in" blah, blah, and he had given her hope for the future.

So this is what state-enforced "critical thinking" means in California: deprecation of factual knowledge and promotion of various progressive theories.

The NY Times is counting on a lack of actual critical thinking skills by its fan base. They label a collection of bad ideas "critical thinking," then label anyone who opposes those ideas opponents of critical thinking. Ha, ha, those Texan rubes. What's the point in even arguing with people like that? (So now, in Orwellian fashion, we don't have to.)

I'm quite sure I would part company with the Texas GOP over other issues, but on this one, they're right. Real critical thinkers should be saying no to phony critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to leaven (I think that's the right word) this with a story from back when I was in college.

It is important to realize that I went to (a) a college in California, that (b) has a fairly liberal non-STEM faculty(*). This is one of the mid-level UC campuses, so it is a good, but not great college. It is the one with the beach.

So ... some of my dorm-floor-mates are talking about an English lit class they were taking that was covering Existentialism. Female student 1 was summarizing the point of this to us as she understood it from the class ... "Life is meaningless, according to these guys." We looked around ... the sky is blue, there are no clouds, the temperature is pleasant, and the many of the women are wearing shorts. We are a five minute walk to the beach. There will probably be drinking that upcoming Friday night.

"Well, they were wrong, weren't they?" responds female student 2.

I *hate* the BS "repeat what I want you to believe" that takes place in many (not all!) of these courses, but I also really don't think it changes many minds. The kids are used to repeating back what the authority figures want to hear. And I don't think many of then actually believe what the teachers want them to believe. They just know enough to play the game and move on with their lives.

-Mark Roulo

(*) For all I know, the STEM faculty is pretty liberal, too, but it never seemed to come up when grades were on the line.

Catherine Johnson said...

"Well, they were wrong, weren't they?" responds female student 2.