Don't let system quash critical thinking - Albuquerque Journal

Don’t let system quash critical thinking

As the Journal continues its commendable year-long Literacy Project, a range of enlightening articles are being researched and presented. This is an optimal year to do so, as New Mexico’s entire school system has been stirred up. It wasn’t working well to start with, and then, you know, the pandemic. Not only do we need to critique long-standing teaching procedures that may not be serving children well, but also look at and understand different kinds of learning.

I often hear laments that today’s children simply do not possess critical thinking skills — therefore the skills should be taught. One more thing to stuff into their curriculum. But an over-stuffed curriculum is one of the factors contributing to poor thinking skills. Too often children are considered “blank slates” upon which the education system tries to write its own story. Kids are not blank slates.

Having worked with young children for many years, I and any observant teacher can tell you, the young ones come with an abundance of desires, thoughts, feelings, judgments. In particular, an inner sense of “what’s right.” We need to run with that. Acknowledge it, and help the kids use their judgment to make sense of their world and themselves. So many skills to develop and fascinating facts to learn — and how to distinguish facts from fiction. They can do it, and they need to know they can do it.

To think of our high school graduates as nothing more than the curriculum that has been fed them is insulting. For example, New Mexico education officials are now seeking public comment on how to overhaul the social studies curriculum. Right. As if kids believed what was being taught in the first place. For students lucky enough to have remained in touch with their inner gauge of what makes sense, much of social studies will always remain arbitrary — what was taught in the past, and any new “set of facts” and prioritizing that adults in power will impose upon them.

From early elementary school onward, many children have been forced to “blank themselves out” and mindlessly accept what teachers tell them, both text and subtext. They are rewarded when they do it and called good students. So what do they “learn?” To become hypocrites? To believe that mindlessly accepting what’s presented really does make them good students, or worse, good people?

Then they grow into adults without critical thinking ability, and with the resentments and poor judgment that accompany that.

The solution is not to add on mandatory courses in how to think critically, having squashed children’s ability to do so, but to not squash their budding ability in the first place. On all levels when adults are deciding children’s lives, to keep in mind and respect that they are more than blank slates, and that they are engaged in many different kinds of learning.


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