Schools aren't teaching students to think critically, and this is dangerous for our future.
My husband, a high school teacher, showed a three-minute video that included interviews with successful women in technology. He then asked students to respond to some simple true-false statements.
One of those statements was, “Women can be successful in technology. True or False?”
Several students said they didn’t know the answer because the question wasn’t in the video. They were unable to conclude, after watching interviews with successful women, that women could succeed in technology.
They couldn’t make the leap that required them to think about and interpret what they had just seen.
We’re not talking about low-performing kids here. These are advanced placement students who earn extra credits for taking this class.
Their response appears to confirm an alarming trend my husband and other teachers have observed over the past few years.
While students are proficient at memorization, they’re becoming less and less able to think for themselves.
Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher, noticed the same thing. Writing in HuffPost, he said:
“The essence of an education, the ability to think critically and protect oneself from falsehood and lies, may have once been taught in American schools, but with few exceptions, is today a lost art.”
Why aren’t students learning to think critically?
The teachers I’ve met are in the profession because they want to have an impact on the next generation. They’re idealistic, they like kids, and they believe the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.
So why aren’t they teaching students to think critically?
Most of them would like to, but they are too bogged down with everything else that goes along with teaching.
Mandatory items that have to be introduced into the curriculum and numerous standardized tests take up an inordinate amount of time.
Standardized tests teach children to excel at multiple-choice; not to think about and interpret what they’ve learned.
Attendance is another problem. Excused absences keep many students out of the classroom.
Teachers are required to produce makeup work and give students an extra makeup day for each day missed. This is a mad scramble that leaves little time for exercises in critical thinking.
Some impediments to good classroom instruction started out with the best of intentions. Standardized tests were meant to evaluate a student’s progress, but ended up teaching students how to excel at multiple choice.
A jam-packed curriculum is supposed to increase a student’s knowledge, but doesn’t emphasize in-depth study.
Open discussion of all sides of an issue is important to critical thinking, but a diversity of opinion and thought is discouraged and often forbidden when the topic is controversial.
The burden is on the teacher
If a student fails to achieve a certain grade, the burden is on the teacher to make sure that student passes.
This means makeup sessions, extensive detailing of the student’s progress, follow-up communication with parents and extra makeup assignments.
While this might sound good in the abstract, in reality, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort.
Imagine a teacher doing all these things for 10 students who aren’t making a C. Any attempt to teach critical thinking falls victim to the sheer magnitude of effort involved in catching kids up.
Another problem is the amount of time spent on class discipline. I can remember when “citizenship” grades were given for student conduct, but this was abandoned years ago.
Students don’t receive conduct grades, and any teacher giving a student in-school or out-of-school suspension for misbehavior needs enough documentation to fill a folder. Creating this documentation is so time-consuming that much class disruption goes ignored or uncorrected.
The unintended consequence of a focus on standardized tests, a tolerance of absenteeism, a lack of discipline and a curriculum too crammed with mandated material to allow time for in-depth study is a lack of critical thinking.
Lack of Critical Thinking is a Danger to Our Future
When we aren’t teaching young people to think critically, it's a danger to the future of our country.
Young people who haven’t learned to think for themselves are easily indoctrinated. This is probably why a proposed California school curriculum has state legislators in an uproar.
In 2016, the state’s board of education ordered educators to create an ethnic studies curriculum that would highlight the contributions of minorities. A draft of the curriculum is being slammed by critics who claim it promotes anti-Semitic stereotypes.
The Los Angeles Times said in an editorial that the curriculum “feels like an exercise in groupthink designed to proselytize and inculcate more than to inform and open minds.”
The California Legislative Jewish Caucus wrote to the Instructional Quality Commission: “Despite the significant contributions of Jews to California’s history, politics, culture, and government — and our community’s longstanding struggle against hatred and discrimination — the ESMC effectively erases the American Jewish experience.”
Indoctrination versus learning
The other day I watched a PBS documentary about the rise of Hitler to power. The documentary helped shed light on a question the has always baffled me: How could so many supposedly ordinary people be persuaded to commit such atrocities?
One reason is that Hitler reached the youth of the country.
School subjects underwent a major change under the Nazi regime, with a strong nationalistic approach rife with anti-Semitism. Biology became a study of different races to “prove” that Nazi belief in racial superiority was sound.
Indoctrination was rampant in all subjects. Students weren’t taught to think for themselves but were fed the propaganda that would brainwash them into supporting Hitler.
These are extreme examples, but all you have to do is examine social media to see that there is already a massive amount of groupthink that precludes civil discourse.
Our children, on social media much of the time, are exposed to hate-filled comments, refusal to consider a diversity of opinions and dangerous discourse that encourages hatred and violence.
We need to be mindful of the curriculum we expose our children to, but we should be even more mindful of the dangers inherent in not teaching young people to think critically.
For the sake of our freedom and our future, we must have educated men and women who can stand up to false teachings and indoctrination.
They need a broad-based depth of knowledge, along with discernment and the ability to interpret and apply knowledge wisely. The ability to think critically isn’t just important. It’s essential.