Friday, March 04, 2005

Critical thinking mania

"Critical thinking" (most frequently known by the endlessly repeated phrase "higher-order thinking skills" or HOTS) is a particular conceit of the pretentious constructivist crowd -- a crowd averse to thinking and analysis. This crowd wallows in false dichotomies. It establishes a false dichotomy between learning subject matter and "thinking" to justify its profound hostility to knowledge. It's either one or the other. According to this crowd, "thinking" somehow can take place in a vacuum.

The saprozoic crowd's obsession with so-called higher order thinking skills has its basis in a misunderstanding of Bloom's fabled taxonomy. Bloom's taxonomy -- a scheme bandied about endlessly in ed schools -- attempts to classify levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. The scheme is viewed as a hierarchy consisting of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This hierarchy supposedly proceeds from lower-order to higher-order thinking skills.

In this scheme, as interpreted by the constructivist crowd, knowledge and comprehension have a lowly, contemptible amoeba-like existence and may be disregarded because of their lowness in the hierarchy. This suits the anti-intellectual constructivist crowd just fine. However, I doubt that Bloom ever envisioned such an interpretation. Most likely he viewed each category as being inextricably intertwined with each other. In other words, you cannot think in a vacuum. You need something to think about. This commonsensical and pedestrian insight is beyond the grasp of the mindless, but pretentious progressive/constructivist education herd.


Author said...

Unlike "low" level skills like decoding words and solving equations it seems that the acquisition of "critical thinking" skills occurs naturally and is context-dependent - much like social skills. The absence of these "low" level skills will prevent "critical thinking" from ever emerging in many very important contexts.

Instructivist said...

This is an excellent point.

Educationists treat "critical thinking" like a free-floating entity that can be taught divorced from a concrete subject.

Solving any kind of problem requires critical thinking. Try to solve mixture problems envolving concentrations without critical thinking.

Educationists value "critical thinking" for the high-falutin sound it makes but are themselves allergic to any thinking.

Jonathan Kallay said...

Nothing like making broad, sweeping statements about some mythical group, full of ad hominem attacks but lacking any substance or specific examples, to make a guy feel like a man. Feel better?

Perhaps you could bolster your comments with references to "bourgeouis ideologies" or "Zionist cabals"?

Instructivist said...

Jonathan writes about a "mythical group". Perhaps he is unfamilar with the ed doctrines dominating the ed establishment. One of the tenets of this doctrine holds that students "construct their own knowledge." It certainly doesn't sound like a belief that the function of schools is to impart a certain body of knowledge.

I just came across a post by Rita Kramer, author of "Ed School Follies", at Horsefeathers.

It pretty much sums up the ed school situation:

What does it say that books like “Ed School Follies,” published more than a decade ago, still describe the current situation? It means, for one thing, that teachers are trained in the context of an ideology that has succeeded in redefining the goal of the public schools. Understanding the history of our democratic institutions and our inherited culture has been replaced by the attempt to turn the schools into agencies of social change. Striving for excellence has been replaced by the push toward egalitarianism that denies differences in abilities, discourages hard work, and fosters a “self-esteem” that has more to do with the politics of group identity than accomplishments earned through effort.
The strategies taught to our future teachers, few of whom have mastered any body of knowledge, any specific subject, include an emphasis on a multiculturism that makes all cultures equal, downplaying the Western tradition underlying this country’s distinctive character and achievements. A panoply of education-school fads have grown out of the theory that children “construct” their own knowledge, that teachers should not present themselves as authorities but as “facilitators.” These pedagogical fashions include the “whole language” method of teaching reading by word recognition rather than by phonics and the “fuzzy math” that encourages children to “construct” their own ways of dealing with numbers to arrive at their own answers, in the hope that they will get the concept if not the recognizably right solution.
The advantages of these bizarre tactics for learning are said to be that they do not stifle the young mind with rote learning, drills, or even what have been described as “mere facts.” What the disadvantages are can be seen in the constant lowering of standards, evisceration of curricula, failure to encourage brighter students with more challenging opportunities, and—perhaps worst of all—failure to meet the needs of the students most at risk. While most children from middle-class families, read to and stimulated in various ways from their earliest days, manage to deal with the non-systematic approaches to letters and numbers, the children of poverty and broken homes who get their first taste of learning when they come to school are left behind, fail to thrive, and drop out in large numbers. This despite the fact that over and over it has been demonstrated that they learn better in programs based on the tried and true methods—phonics, memorization, and active instruction by authoritative teachers who impose discipline and convey clear expectations.
Between the destructive effects of the ideology-driven education-school establishment and the self-interest of the teachers’ unions protecting mediocre and even inadequate performance, there seems to be little hope for the schools unless the public-school monopoly gives way to some form of competition. When parents become aware of alternatives to the systems that are failing their children and demand the right to choose their schools, books like “Ed School Follies” will no longer be read. And as the author, I won’t mind.
--Rita Kramer