Education Needs a Paradigm Shift
- 30 December 2007 by Author 0 Comments
Education Needs a Paradigm Shift
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 12/30/07
Education is much more than the bestowal of facts, figures, and opinion by teachers. More than anything it should be the inculcation of deliberative and critical thinking skills into our students. Such was my argument a couple of weeks ago, and that too many of our teachers seek to indoctrinate rather than truly teach how to think. My thesis upset Martin Hackworth so much he did an entire satire piece on it, proving by his defensiveness his culpability as an indoctrinator.
I would submit that any good teacher is comfortable teaching various perspectives on the same issue, and facilitating a non-threatening environment where the students can, through the Socratic method, make inquiries, research further, and fully think through issues. If we are not teaching our children critical thinking, they enter school as a “skull full of mush” and leave thirteen or seventeen years later as nothing more than narcissistic and even more vacuous “skulls full of mush,” but with the dangerous side effect of thinking they know it all.
To Mr. Hackworth and other educators to whom the concept of teaching critical thinking and various perspectives is anathema, I would suggest taking a few days digesting the immense amount of research available proving its efficacy. The ERIC database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education makes an outstanding starting point. A search of “critical thinking” yields over 12,000 abstracts.
According to one study there, published in October, the researchers found that by teaching various perspectives in a manner designed to require critical thinking (i.e. not indoctrination per the teacher’s opinion), the experimental group “showed a statistically significant improvement on critical thinking subscales, such as truth-seeking, open-mindedness, self-confidence, and maturity, compared with the control groups” (i.e. those indoctrinated by teacher opinion). That sounds like what education is supposed to accomplish.
The researchers went on to say that, “Our findings suggest that if teachers purposely and persistently practice higher order thinking strategies for example, dealing in class with real-world problems, encouraging open-ended class discussions, and fostering inquiry-oriented experiments, there is a good chance for a consequent development of critical thinking capabilities.” That is not possible in a closed, opinion driven classroom environment like my daughter struggled through, ironically, in a critical theory literature class last semester.
There is no teacher I respect or admire more than my mother-in-law, Edith Hunt, who has been teaching and tutoring for nearly thirty years. She can work with virtually any child, and excels with those underperforming for their grade level, if they are willing to work. In a matter of months, she can have them performing at or above grade level. One fourth grader could hardly read the word “this” when she started with her, and by the time she completed her elementary training, she had earned the Presidential Academic Excellence Award.
What you or I would classify as a miracle accomplishment is simply a proven method of teaching that she has perfected. Rather than coddling and pampering the child, high expectations are agreed to by Mrs. Hunt, the student, and the parents, and a rigorous process of teaching ensues. As important as fundamental facts and figures are at the elementary level, the most crucial element is training the student to look at material from different perspectives, thereby facilitating critical thinking.
And it’s not just in social studies that this teaching process develops critical thinking skills, it’s across all disciplines. The example cited above from the ERIC database was conducted with science students. Mrs. Hunt validates this approach from her experience even in teaching basic math and reading skills. She maintains that 60% of her teaching is geared to critical thinking, and only 40% to the actual academic material. She maintains that by getting the student to look at words and problems from different angles and perspectives stimulates the cognitive processes necessary to not just develop a fine student, but a future adult who can compete and participate proactively in the competitive job market of the 21st century.
A “blogger” on the Journal weblog from my column two weeks ago, Natasha, made the following observation: “I think the root cause of the problem is we are not teaching critical thinking in secondary education. Logic and argument are beyond our student population not because they are unintelligent but because they are uneducated. This leaves them unable to recognize bad argument and therefore subject to indoctrination. Instead of all the feel good touchy feely classes that now dominate our high schools we should insist that classical debate and argument are taught. Society can remain free only as long as the people are free thinkers.”
Mrs. Hunt validates this notion. She conducts drills with her students to ensure they have the fundamental information for a given discipline as one aspect of her tutoring. When the teacher of one of her students was asked if she did drills, she replied matter-of-factly, “Oh, no. Some of them may not do that very well, and it would hurt their self-esteem.”
I think that’s the “feel good touchy feely” aspect of contemporary public education that Natasha was referring to. The irony to the teacher’s comment, however, is that by engaging in such exercises, these students’ self-esteem grows by leaps and bounds as they at first struggle with, and then master the concepts thought by the teacher to be too challenging to their self-esteem!
Although Mr. Hackworth scoffed at the notion that American education is falling increasingly behind the rest of the world, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, “the nation’s report card” tells a different story. According to the Assessment, “less than one-third of American students are doing well in reading, writing, math, science and other important subjects.” That means whatever we’re doing is not working.
We’re creating a generation of sheep that is too ill-informed to see through the specious reasoning of indoctrinated contemporary education, and who haven’t been equipped with the tools of reasoning and critical thinking. A paradigm shift of sorts is necessary on the part of educators and with the committed support of parents and administrators, to teach our children to think critically, and not just indoctrinate them according to the teachers or professors opinion.
Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at email@example.com.