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gorillapaws's avatar

Why isn't critical thinking taught in school from early on?

Asked by gorillapaws (25376points) March 3rd, 2008 from iPhone

I’ve always wondered why critical thinking isn’t taught in elementary school and continued on through high school. It seems as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Anyone else find it strange that most people don’t get introduced to non-mathmatical formal logic and critical thinking until their freshman year in college (if they ever make it that far)?

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17 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

Critical thinking doesn’t get the dishwasher built any faster. We are made to make and consume.

And the ability to barf up facts from a textbook are easy to test.

segdeha's avatar

@johnpowell, Tasty.

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything conspiratorial about it. I think part of the problem is that to teach critical thinking, you have to be able to think critically yourself. Before university, I had only a couple of teachers who were even capable of pushing me to think critically. I try to instil the skill in my kids, but dog knows if they’re getting it at school.

djbyron's avatar

This is probably the biggest reason why we’re considering home-schooling our son. Yea there are definite pros and cons to doing so, but those I’ve met who have home-schooled for this reason (to give your child a mental edge) have children who definitely are a step ahead in this area.

cwilbur's avatar

It’s nearly impossible to teach critical thinking in large groups, and it’s nearly impossible to test for it with fill-in-the-circle tests. This means that underfunded schools can’t teach it effectively, and then when politicians start banging the drum for accountability and educational reform, the things that get tested are the things that are easy to test “objectively,” and teachers and schools are so desperate to do well on that test that they don’t spend any time on anything outside the test.

It’s not a conspiracy; it’s just the result of lack of funding and support for eduction.

(And then, if by some miracle you manage to start teaching critical thinking, some loon of a parent will demand to know why you’re not teaching relevant things.)

nomtastic's avatar

also, educating kids to be “critical” means different things at different developmental stages. further, there is some skills-based learning (some call it training) that is really important to do early on, particularly with literacy and numeracy.

i also echo the problem of class/group size. teaching kids to be critical in a safe space requires smaller ratios of grown-ups to kids. the size of most k – 12 classes necessitates a large degree of “do because i said so” just to manage the group.

Val123's avatar

What makes you think it isn’t taught from the get go? I get sooooo tired of people who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they graduated (or dropped out) making assumptions about what is being taught and how it’s being taught. Go observe in a classroom for a week and then come back and we’ll discuss it.

gorillapaws's avatar

Does your school offer critical thinking classes? More Americans probably know pi to it’s 3rd decimal of precision than know the basic logical fallacies (or even what a logical fallacy is). Which is more important?

Val123's avatar

@gorillapaws Define critical thinking.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Val123 Wikipedia’s article

I’m suggesting it’s important enough to be treated as it’s own subject. I’ve never heard of a critical thinking class offered earlier than high school, and even that seems very rare. Typically, the first time a student is formally introduced to the subject is in college—which is pathetic.

I realize that some of the concepts are taught within their various disciplines, but I put forth the lack of critical thinking skills among most Americans as indicative of the failure of this approach. My belief is that it should be taught from early on as it’s own subject, and then further reinforced by the other classes (much in the way writing skills are for the various disciplines).

Val123's avatar

@gorillapaws LOL! I meant in your own words! That was a bit ironic, now wasn’t it!

Critical thinking is part and parcel of much of the education curriculum. In Social Studies, for example, “Write an essay telling me why you think…...” In science, “What do you think so and so’s tests and observations suggested, and why.”

gorillapaws's avatar

@Val123 Did you read the article? Particularly the section on efficacy? Clearly the approach we’ve been using isn’t effective.

I don’t think it’s ironic at all. What would be gained by paraphrasing an already well written article “in my own words?” I’m suggesting that memorizing state capitols we should learn the logical fallacies. If I state a fallacious argument, the student should be able to identify the error in logic that was made.

How many student essays “telling you why x…” are riddled with broken logic? In a paper like that the teacher is more concerned with correcting grammar, and verifying an accurate understanding of the facts than with searching for inconsistencies in logic.

I bet if you published 100 A+ student essays we would find dozens of logical fallacies that weren’t pointed out in the grading process.

Val123's avatar

@gorillapaws Paraphrasing shows you understand it. It shows you’re not just regurgitating stuff when you have no idea what you’re talking about.

As for not pointing out logical fallacies….how would you know what a teacher did or didn’t discuss with the student? How can you possibly know? Tell you what…find me an example of an A+ essay to back up your theory. If you can’t, then I will have to assume you have no idea what you’re talking about.

As far as grammar…..well, how seriously would you take a paper written by, say, a senior in HS that reads, “i thnik that u need 2 understend, wat the arther was trying to say that noone thinks the same we are, all diferent i am difernt from u.” I teach in an Adult Diploma Completion program. And yes, I see crap like the example above all the damn time. And it is not the fault of the schools. The students just weren’t interested in learning. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Val123 I majored in Philosophy, I can assure you that I certainly do know what I’m talking about.

The fact that I have no desire to re-write a well-written article does NOT indicate that I don’t know the content. Do you know the job of the US President is? Oh, you don’t want to write a thorough description of it to me? Therefore I should assume you don’t know what the President’s role is? Wouldn’t it be better to assume that maybe you do and maybe you don’t you simply have no desire/need to prove it? This is known as an argument from ignorance. Irony indeed.

“How can you possibly know?” I can’t know, and I never said I did (doing so would be making the proof-by-example fallacy), but I can make educated guesses. I can’t recall a single instance of being told I made a fallacious argument in any of the essays I wrote in grade school (And I’m certain that it wasn’t because all of my essays were fallacy free). I can recall my experiences in undergraduate philosophy and critical thinking when students were making lots of errors and struggling with the material (this would indicate that logic wasn’t a particularly important part of their grade school curriculum).

With regard to the grammar, I think you’re seriously misunderstanding the point I’m trying to make. I absolutely think proper grammar and spelling are critical, and so is communicating to the teacher you understand the material. The point i’m making is that without critical thinking and logic as a separate subject there isn’t the attention to it that is necessary. It’s like saying student’s don’t need PE class, they get plenty of exercise lugging around their book bags and walking from class-to-class everyday.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” We’re not leading them to water, we’re giving them a misting here and there which really isn’t the same thing.

Val123's avatar

@gorillapaws I don’t know what school you went to or who your teachers were, but there were times I was questioned on an essay like, ‘And how do you know this?’ or ‘Actually this and so happens. Research further.’ In addition, I’ve questioned plenty of things that were written by students. So, I guess it all depends on your own experiences. Just because you didn’t have any teachers who asked you to think critically doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Val123 I was fortunate enough to have some truly exceptional educational opportunities. Of course I received those types of comments on papers, but they were never identified as fallacy X or Y. If you think that’s the extent of critical thinking and logic, you are seriously misinformed and probably never bothered to read the article I linked.

Have you ever had a formal class in philosophy, logic or critical thinking? Do you know the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning? Are you familiar with the differences between soundness and validity or what a Syllogism is? Were you ever taught to take an argument written in paragraph form and deconstruct it into a formal argument with it’s premises, and figured out what the unstated premises/assumptions were and if the argument was both valid and sound? What percent of graduating highschool seniors do you think are familiar with these concepts?

I think these are skills/concepts that are incredibly valuable and should be taught early on in their own class and encouraged to integrate into the rest of their subjects throughout their education.

rayjaewon's avatar

In order to teach critical thinking you need real, live teachers, not computers, in the classroom.
Second, you have to give up this testing to measure thinking. Student who learn to pass tests by computer technology don’t learn critical thinking. The tend to do better in the empty science of axiomatic, deductive logic, which is a closed science of never learning more than what you started with. The privatization of elementary and secondary education leads us into training students to pass so called achievement tests by rote memorization. That is not education, it is brainwashing at best.

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