Sorry everybody, but I’m going to have to do the teacher thing for the moment. So let’s open with a quote from Noam:
“Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin with taking a skeptical attitude towards anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s all about the questions. I hate it when I catch myself on things. Before you ask, the quote is accurate; the sentiment behind it is accurate. This doesn’t have much to do with politics. This is a post about education. It’s a post about critical thinking.
You have to develop your critical thinking skills. Tommy isn’t doing will in English; Tommy is having problems with his critical thinking skills. Well, you can probably do the same thing with just about any subject. Johnny isn’t doing well in Science, Mrs. Smith; he’s struggling with his critical thinking skills. Jack is failing mat, Jack has problems with critical thinking.
Is it important?
What is critical thinking?
Seriously, what is it?
I don’t know any more.
I used to have a problem with many parts of the whole greater education ethos while I was logging my time in the front of a classroom. Most of my complaints were focused on Multiple Intelligences. I’ve written a post about it in the past. Why do we focus so much on group work when students will have to achieve individually in college? Why do we have classroom games where everyone is a winner when that’s not the case in real life? That sort of thing. I never really thought too deeply about critical thinking.
What is critical thinking? In social science classrooms it is there to help students develop skills by reading questions and flipping through the classroom material to find the appropriate answers. It’s important. I’ll give you that. It’s learning how to write research papers for the professors that give you a series of questions to chose from in order to make the grade in college classes that help you to develop no real job gaining skills. Believe me, I know this for a fact, I am very good at research. I have highly developed skills that no one will ever higher me to use. So it goes. Push comes to shove & I’ll openly admit that I should have majored in construction. So it goes. Shit.
I thought I could get by as a teacher. But then they aren’t hiring teachers, are they? They certainly are not hiring history & government teachers. And they will absolutely not hire teachers that have blown the whistle in the past. So it goes. Shit.
But I am digressing again. That’s funny. I used to joke that philosophers are the most relevant when they are the shortest. In their shortest publications they are the most important, they are sure they are correct & therefore are not going to work too hard to make their point; it was my critical thinking in philosophy. It’s one of the reasons I thought Leviathan was a bull shit philosophical text, a very well written one, one that was a pleasure to read, but still; bull shit. And Hobbes knew it too. I’ve done that before, I’ve written things that I knew were totally vapid while I was writing them, & at that time of the writing the logic behind it holds. It’s not my fault if you buy into it.
But that is the point isn’t it?
Still with me or are you bored?
Let us look for a minute at the ancient Greek philosophers for our little rant about critical thinking. OK? It’ll be fun. I was once madly in love with a girl that was madly in love with the ancient Greeks. It makes you an expert on the subject. It really does. If you want to impress her, you read “the ancients,” as Jenny called them. And it helps, at least if you can keep your mouth shut & try not to call out the fact that Plato was a racist, if not that, at least the fact that The Republic endorsed racism. Some times you just can’t do it. So it goes. Shit. But it was a fun argument to get into. How many relationships include screaming matches over Plato?
Here’s the twenty-million dollar question: What were the ancients taught first?
I’ll give you some time to answer: tick tok tick tok tick tok.
Are you ready?
The answer is: rhetoric.
Let me ask you a follow up? Are you ready guys?
Here it comes: Why on the face of this momentarily green earth would the ancient Greeks, the people that were renowned for logic, teach rhetoric first?
Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?
V-O-O economics. Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Voodoo economics.
I’m really not joking there; I’m not just doing the 80’s references that my students never really understood. It is the right answer….sort of.
Rhetoric! Critical thinking! Where am I going with this?
I’ll give you an example. A real life example. As in this actually happened. To me! I supported the Libertarian view on Fiat currency. It was brilliantly disguised. It was put in front of me in just the way that would make someone like me more likely to buy into it. The illusion of the question. Critical thinking. Rhetoric cleverly disguised as logic. Rhetoric is really only propaganda, in more honest times it was simply propaganda. Today we call it “news” but it is all really just one in the same. It is a very important lesson to learn. Even people like me that love propaganda, people like me that collect propaganda are not immune to it. And I do seriously love it; I have propaganda all over my place, framed as works of art. I drool with bliss when I watch Fox & MSNBC.
I thought I was questioning fiat currency when I was rallying to the gold or silver standards. I really did. I had bought it, hook, line, & sinker. Let’s be honest here, I WAS questioning fiat currency. What I wasn’t doing was questioning the gold & silver standards. The disconnect came only because I was a history teacher, it came only because I had taught economics. It started with old Billy’s failed presidential campaigns. There was a problem when he was running & we didn’t have fiat currency, there simply was not enough money to go around, we were suffering from deflation, & then boom. A serious boom, an Alaskan boom, gold was found & the problem was solved.
But hold on, there is more.
I taught economics too, I know all about the stock market. I know all about Wall Street. I can even do the hand signals; the numbers, the flying bird, the falling quail, the check please, & the more coffee—ok, that’s funnier in the classroom than it is on the page. I love Glenn Beck, I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, but I do love him, him & his fiery pants. I know enough to have eventually stopped & thought: “wait a minute, Wall Street speculates on silver & gold, & any of the other precious metals we would use if we stopped fiat currency.” As a matter of fact, they speculate on currency as well. What it does, what ending the fiat currency does, is allow for more currency control to be placed in the hands of the people that caused most of our problems. So it goes. Shit. Now we have to find another solution to inflation, because a standard backed by a metal is not going to work any longer, not once you think about it critically.
Why is this important to critical thinking as taught in the classroom? It’s important because it is not critical thinking, its rhetoric. And rhetoric is useful, but logic is necessary. Logic should trump rhetoric. What my belief about fiat currency used to be operated exactly like what students are taught when they are taught critical thinking in the classroom. I was given material, I was given questions, & I was told to find the answer in the text.
It doesn’t develop critical thinking skills at all. At least, it doesn’t develop the critical thinking skills that we as a nation need. It doesn’t develop the skills that we as teachers need in order to successfully prepare our students to think critically outside the classroom.
We are focusing too much on the answers.
We are focusing too much on the answers.
We are focusing too much on the answers.
As a very wise fictitious character once said in the Matrix: “It is the question that drives us.” Otherwise we are just thinking in fragments. You see what I just did there? Yeah. Three person joke, that was. That wasn’t funny at all. Maybe a lit major would laugh at it.
Ultimately, all the critical thinking sections in the text books are doing is no different than what the multiple choice questions are doing. It’s teaching the students how to flip pages, find the proper acceptable answers, the answers that support the preordained rhetoric. We already have the essay questions to develop the students’ rhetorical skills; we don’t need the critical thinking sections to support the material’s rhetoric.
We should kill the critical thinking section, or at least rename it. No, my first impulse was correct. We should murder it until it is dead. Kill it bloody, it deserves a slow & horrible death. The Persians, in the time before water-boarding, would shove people in canoes in the desert & force feed them milk & honey until they were fat & bloated & then leave them to the ants & the desert heat. The critical thinking sections, as taught today, deserve no better fate.
If we want to actually teach critical thinking skills we should develop a blank page lesson plan. Forget about the answers. Grade the students on the questions. Return to Socrates. Give them the text, give them the material, give them the lectures, & then set them free. Tell them they are graded on their questions.
It’s just as easy to grade off the questions as it is the answers.
The better the questions the students ask, the harder it is for you, the teacher, to find the answers, the better the student understood the material presented in the lesson plan. We need to teach them to think critically. We need to teach them how to completely & totally, to utterly destroy the material in the classroom.
We need to destroy rhetoric in the world. And you know you have succeeded when you are watching the presidential debates & the well placed question lays waste to the propaganda that is spewing out of the platform base. Teach the students to counter rhetoric with questions in a debate, not facts.
You are the teacher, it’s your responsibility to present the facts to the students, but there is more to it than just that. They are the students; as such they should have a sacred responsibility in the classroom. By the time they get back from winter break they should be constantly forcing you to prove the facts. You should be teaching the students how to really think critically, you should be teaching them to ask questions as a means of attacking the material you are teaching them. When they argue with you in the classroom, they shouldn’t be using rhetoric, which plays off of emotions, & prejudices, & beliefs. No. They should be using questions.
Questions should prove their point.
If they don’t believe in Climate Change, or Gay Marriage, or the War on Terror, that’s fine. But don’t let them use a party platform to back it up. Make them use questions; make them ask the questions that you cannot answer to prove their point.
Asking the question is critical thinking.
Finding the answer is just reinforcing the rhetoric in the material.