Hi -Of course, I've omitted the question of direct instruction in values...
I am a writer (Animals in Translation; Animals Make Us Human) and an instructor of freshman composition.
My class blog is here.
My husband, Ed Berenson, is Director of the Institute of French Studies at NYU (his new book is The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story).
Both of us strongly support “knowledge-based education,” and we are likely in the majority of parents, including liberal parents living in New York.
Although it’s not obvious from the platform’s wording, knowledge – not critical thinking per se – is the issue the Texas Republican Party has taken a position on. The phrase “critical thinking” means something quite different inside public education than out, and I’m hoping you’ll consider writing a follow-up to clarify.
Boiling it down, there are two fundamental issues in the ‘education wars,’ one involving values, the other involving empirical research on the brain.
In terms of values, a majority of parents (and taxpayers and liberal arts professors) want schools to transmit to students knowledge of the liberal arts disciplines.
The K-12 establishment disagrees. Education professors [tend to] believe knowledge is changing so quickly that material taught today will be obsolete tomorrow, so content doesn’t matter. Instead of teaching knowledge, schools should teach students to ‘think critically’ and to ‘learn how to learn.’
(If you're interested, I compare my own district's ‘content doesn’t matter’ 7th grade reading program to the Core Knowledge reading sequence here. My district spends $29K per pupil.)
In terms of research on the brain, the K-12 establishment believes that ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ are separate functions. In the age of the internet, they argue, there is no reason for students to 'memorize' and 'regurgitate' knowledge because you can find any information you need on Google.
That sounds logical, but cognitive science has shown that it’s wrong. In reality, it's not possible to think about content stored on Google. While you are thinking, content must be stored inside 'working memory,' and working memory for “external,” unlearned content is tiny -- while working memory for knowledge stored in long-term memory is much larger.
In short, “knowledge” stored in the brain is biologically different from “knowledge” stored outside the brain, and the difference matters to the quality of thought. Thinking depends on knowing.
Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham’s article for teachers is worth reading:
Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?
In closing, I’ll mention that Ed headed the California History/Social Science Project in the ‘90s. CHSSP was a state-wide effort by the superintendent of schools to remove professional development from education schools and put it in the hands of disciplinary specialists – in other words, to make professional development “knowledge-based.”
I’m sure Ed would be happy to talk to you if you’re interested.
Hoping you’ll look into this further and consider writing a follow-up –
Saturday, June 30, 2012
letter to Andrew Rosenthal
re: Texas Republicans and "Knowledge-Based Education," I've sent this email to an address that I hope belongs to Andrew Rosenthal: