June 16, 2008

Critical Thinking and How to Teach It

Buried in a lengthy, otherwise irrelevant, post gadfly Stephen Downes writes:

Our methods of teaching focus on the memorization of facts, rather than the cultivation of disciplines - such as, say, logic and critical thinking - that allow them to think for themselves.

Under the commonly understood meanings of these words, this statement is, to put not too fine a point on it, preposterous.

Current methods of teaching focus on the memorization of facts? Huh?

Not just the learning of facts, mind you, but the memorization of facts. Quick, somebody call Don Hirsch and tell him he can retire.

Then we get the highly misleading implication that critical thinking is somehow a discipline to be cultivated in and of itself, as opposed to being a domain specific skill.

If you want to learn about critical thinking, how it should be taught, and why Stephen is wrong, I advise you read Dan Willingham's article, Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?.

If you want to see Stephen make a fool of himself defending his statement and lose his cool to boot, see this comment thread.


Matthew K. Tabor said...

A muddy, awful critical thinking tutorial by the guy who couldn't understand that "I won" as your post title referred to you winning an award, not a debate.


Eric said...

One nit with Dan Willingham's article. He writes:
"Special programs aren't worth it. ... The modest boost that such programs may provide should be viewed, as should all claims of educational effectiveness, in light of their opportunity costs. Every hour students spend on the program is an hour they won't be learning something else."

I read the papers and watched the video of HOTS. It is geared toward Title I and LD students and looks as real as DI. See:

Wouldn't Willingham's argument nix "Reasoning and Writing" as well?

Downes said...

A typical post from someone who demonstrates quite amply that he doesn't understand what critical thinking is.

If you read this post, you'll find a couple of quotes, a verbal nose thumbing, and a couple of non-specific references to other works.

This, it seems, is what constitutes critical thinking in this part of the blogosphere. It is reflective both of the sad state of American education, and of the cause.

KDeRosa said...

Eric, Not sure about HOTS, but RW teaches grammar, writing, logic, and critical reasonong in in evaluating other's writing

Stephen, we, have what you wrote, what I wrote, and what a real cognitive scientist wrote directly on point. I think the readers can decide who's closer to the truth and who's the left leaning idealogue with his own special definition of memorization that implicates test prep and NCLB.