Quotations and Observations about the Importance of Including Critical Thinking in the School Curriculum

Critical thinking, like many important parts of the school curriculum, is not a “subject” that necessarily needs to be taught separately in the way that we have a science period, a math period, etc.  The “with it” teacher is always looking for opportunities to improve his/her students’ critical thinking skills.

Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Jr.:”Critical-thinking skills: A phrase that implies an ability to analyze ideas and solve problems while taking a sufficiently independent, “critical” stance toward authority to think things out for one’s self. It is an admirable educational goal for citizens of a democracy, and one that has been advocated in the United States since Jefferson. The ability to think critically is a goal that is likely to be accepted by all American educational theorists. But it is a goal that can easily be oversimplified and sloganized. In the progressive tradition that currently dominates our schools, “critical thinking” has come to imply a counterpoise to the teaching of “mere facts,” in which, according to the dominant caricature, sheep-like students passively absorb facts from textbooks or lecture-style classrooms. Critical thinking, by contrast, is associated with active, discovery learning and with the autonomous, independent cast of mind that is desirable for the citizens of a democracy. Conceived in this progressive tradition, critical thinking belongs to the formalistic tool conception of education, which assumes that a critical habit of thought, coupled with an ability to read for the main idea and an ability to look things up, is the chief component of critical-thinking skills. This tool conception, however, is an incorrect model of real-world critical thinking. Independent-mindedness is always predicated on relevant knowledge: one cannot think critically unless one has a lot of relevant knowledge about the issue at hand. Critical thinking is not merely giving one’s opinion. To oppose “critical thinking” and “mere facts” is a profound empirical mistake. Common sense and cognitive psychology alike support the Jeffersonian view that critical thinking always depends upon factual knowledge.

Russell Baker: An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong.

Anatole France: An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.

Clifford Stoll: Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.

Daniel J. Boorstin: Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.

Albert Einstein: Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.

Chinese Proverb: He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

Albert Einstein: The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Roger Bacon: There are in fact four very significant stumblingblocks in the way of grasping the truth, which hinder every man however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to wisdom, namely, the example of weak and unworthy authority, longstanding custom, the feeling of the ignorant crowd, and the hiding of our own ignorance while making a display of our apparent knowledge.

Anna Quindlen: In 1998 a study … reported the most common discussion model among students was stating what they were certain they already believed, not learning what they did not or exploring the views of those with whom they disagreed.

What to Think about Critical Thinking Parent Power, May 1999, Center for Education Reform. Excerpt: “Understandably, modern educators want to impart the same skills to our children. However, many educators misunderstand the terms ‘critical thinking’ or ‘higher order thinking skills.’ One of the most common mistakes teachers make is to view critical thinking as the opposite of rote learning or memorization. In reality, the learning of facts is the essential first step to thinking critically. … If we want our children to make wise decisions, we must also provide in-depth knowledge about the humanities and sciences. … To give a child a story and ask ‘how do you feel about this?’ accomplishes very little. … The more a child knows about history, literature, math and science, the better equipped he will be to construct his own judgements.”

Eric Buehrer in Thinking Skills. Excerpt: “Today you may hear a lot from educators about higher order thinking skills. The jargon generally goes something like this: ‘Skills for workers in the Twenty-first century will require the students of today to focus more on higher order thinking skills and less on lower order thinking skills. We must move away from drill-grill-and-kill teaching and allow students to explore more creative and critical thinking skills.’ However … research in thinking skills has found one thing that separates experts in a field from very good but less-than-expert practitioners: experts are so skilled at the basics they can quickly move to more advanced and creative problem solving. … For all the well-intentioned talk of ‘higher-order thinking skills,’ too many students don’t have enough of a grasp on basic skills and knowledge to adequately function at ‘higher’ levels.

Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach? by Daniel T. Willingham, professor, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia. “After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it’s time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really. People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge). Thus, if you remind a student to ‘look at an issue from multiple perspectives’ often enough, he will learn that he ought to do so, but if he doesn’t know much about an issue, he can’t think about it from multiple perspectives. You can teach students maxims about how they ought to think, but without background knowledge and practice, they probably will not be able to implement the advice they memorize. Just as it makes no sense to try to teach factual content without giving students opportunities to practice using it, it also makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content.”

Lao-Tzu: To know and yet think we do not know is the highest attainment. Not to know and yet think we do is a disease.

Nigerian Proverb: “Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.”

Lao-Tzu: “To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.”

Daniel Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J.: “Frequently our students come into the university domain thinking that all opinions are equally valid. This view has threatened the intellectual development of students since the time of Socrates because it allows students to think that incomplete, illogical, and nonsystematic thought is ‘good enough.’ Unfortunately, it never is.” Educating in the Jesuit Tradition

Diane Ravitch: “Professors complain about students who arrive at college with strong convictions but not enough knowledge to argue persuasively for their beliefs. … Having opinions without knowledge is not of much value; not knowing the difference between them is a positive indicator of ignorance.” The Schools We Deserve

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