Saturday, March 31, 2007

Critical thinking and creativity watch

It's been said that if fascism comes, it will come in the name of anti-fascism.

I am reminded of that aperçu every time an educationist, business-type or politician sings the praises of critical thinking, higher-order thinking skills, creativity and innovation.

These are all lofty aspirations. What bothers me is that the advocacy of these worthy goals is frequently accompanied by a disparagement of subject matter knowledge. These advocates seem to believe that these qualities can be taught in a vacuum. It's questionable whether they can be taught at all. More likely they develop incidentally through a struggle with subject matter. They are certainly not free-floating entities without moorings. So to get back to the fascism case, in edland anti-intellectualism comes in the name of "critical thinking" and "creativity".

I found new evidence for this phenomenon in a fight over educational legislation in Colorado as presented by the blog Mount Virtus:

On a party line vote today, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill sponsored by Senator Sue Windels (D-Arvada) to mandate standards on Colorado schools that teach sex education. Three committee members, all Democrats - Windels, Bob Bacon, and Ron Tupa - voted to support the House Bill 1292 mandate six weeks after voting against a mandate setting higher state graduation requirements for math and science (Senate Bill 131), and eight weeks after voting against a requirement that high school graduates have basic competency in English (Senate Bill 73). Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora) was the only committee member to cast votes for all three measures.

Last week the House Education Committee, chaired by Mike “Give ‘Em Hell” Merrifield, shot down the math and science requirements after hearing support from a Jefferson County teacher, a university president (could have been two if Merrifield hadn’t rescheduled the hearing at the last minute so CU’s Hank Brown couldn’t testify), and a Lockheed engineer. Said Merrifield:
And here is the kicker:

“My contention is by forcing every child into this narrow curriculum, we are not making them more innovative, we are not making them more creative,” the Colorado Springs Democrat said, citing a national report that calls a well-rounded education the “passport to a job in which creativity and innovation are the key to a good life.”

The Witwer plan, Merrifield said, would make students “more regimented and more lock-step (with) less ability to think outside the box.”
(Hat tip to Myrtle Hocklemeier commenting at KTM II.)

The twisted thinking exhibited by this chairman of the House Education Committee (of all things!) frankly leaves me speechless. It's easy to utter a stupidity. It takes considerable effort to describe the nature of a stupidity. For example, would I have to brandish logical notions like denying the antecedent or affirming the consequent to tackle this inanity?

Another juicy example comes via D-EDRECKONING. Highly prolific blogger Ken deRosa cites a Daily Mail article in which some Association of Teachers and Lecturers suffers paroxysms of anti-intellectualism:

Schools should teach children the key skills they need for life - like walking and thinking - not set subjects such as history or French, teachers' leaders have said.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for the National Curriculum to be torn up and the testing system abolished.

The union said teachers in local schools should be able to adapt lessons to fit a new framework focusing on important skills for life, rather than academic subjects.

Martin Johnson, ATL's acting deputy general secretary, said prioritising academic education over other types of knowledge was "totalitarian".

"A curriculum is a selection from the total sum of knowledge, which is exploding," he said.

"For the state to suggest that some knowledge should be privileged over other knowledge is a bit totalitarian in a 21st century environment. We are arguing that knowledge which traditionally has high status should not be privileged over other kinds of knowledge.

Schools should teach children the key skills they need for life - like walking and thinking?


Now I am waiting for an educationist to point out breathlessly that walking is an important 21th century skill.

In the meantime, Rory has left a comment at D-ED RECKONING in which he reviews the massive amount of research confirming the importance of walking:

I am finally glad someone has finally decided to address the walking achievement gap.

Study after study has confirmed that the ability to walk is a critical aspect of employment.

Our new information based society heavily depends on consumption of coffee. A recent study by a leading University determined it is much more economical to provide centralized coffee pots in office environments. Without the ability to "walk" to these coffee pots, employees will soon suffer from coffee withdrawal causing severe detrimental effects on worker productivity.

L.B. Ral from Progressive University cautions against a biased approach to walking instruction though. He notes that different cultures have different styles of walking.

Meanwhile, disabled activists have called the new emphasis on walking instruction discriminatory. They point out that thousands of wheelchair bound people across the country are able to get around quite well without walking. They recommend "walking" classes be replaced with inclusive instruction on "moving".


Anonymous said...

Of course, one must crawl before one can walk. (Or is walking one of those higher-order skills that do not require prerequisites?)

Anonymous said...

Oh boy... Stupidity flourishes...
Unfortunately, even the brightest of teachers fall into this "high-order thinking skills" deapth... Recently, I spoke with my former cooperating teacher, who is very bright and talented as an educator, but lacks some knowledge as a subject instructor. So I pointed out that for my son (K-student), I am looking for the school to provide him with ACADEMICS, and I am to provide him with enrichment, social etc. skills. She had twisted the purpose of education to the opposite, stating that academics are not that important for nowaday kids. Since most parents cannot provide their kids with enrichment activities and teach them appreciation of reading, writing, sciences, dance, sports, arts etc - its the most important job of formal schooling. Heh... So teaching them walking perfectly fits it this major purpose.

TurbineGuy said...

Thank you for drawing attention to this critical issue.

I am currently lobbying Congress to fund a study on the walking achievement gap. I want to test the hypothesis that walking has unseen benefits when compared with other modes of movement.

My first trials involving soldiers in combat didn't do so well. Several of my walking experimental group had to withdraw for medical reasons after getting hit by flying bullets.

My next experiment will involve walking vs swimming as a means of transversing an Olympic size pool. We are currently debating whether the use of snorkles will invalidate the experiment.

Rory Hester
Director of the National Right to Walk Association.