Want Your Child to Think Critically? Start Earlier Than College.

In elementary school, I had the good fortune of being pulled from my regular classroom twice a week for Gifted and Talented instruction with an inspiring teacher, Mrs. Lenox. I’ll never forget the first lesson she taught us in second grade: Bloom’s Taxonomy. Using a clever little tune, she taught us how to approach a problem – any problem – critically in order to obtain new knowledge and reach conclusions. Bloom’s Taxonomy would become the bedrock of our G&T curriculum, one that stood in stark contrast to the simple lessons given in our regular classrooms.

Public education hasn’t changed all that much since my time with Mrs. Lenox 30-odd years ago. Sure, kids have fancy tablets now that allow them to look up facts I used to have to crack a book to obtain. But, the reality is that students are still being fed answers instead of being forced to figure things out on their own, often to satisfy federally-funded testing mandates. Subject matter is rarely integrated, especially at the middle and high school levels, leaving many students to wonder why they’re dissecting frogs in Biology only to spend the next 45 minutes discussing Jane Austen in English. If high school graduates can’t think critically it’s because those designing the curriculum have yet to do the same.

And yet it is colleges that receive the brunt of the flack when it comes to a lack of critical thinking skills among students. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, test data reveals that the majority of American institutions of higher education “fail to improve critical thinking skills” among their student population. Perhaps this is due in large part to the fact that we’ve lost sight of the original purpose of a college education: to churn out well-rounded individuals. Today colleges market themselves as glorified career-training institutes, defending high tuition costs with promises of job-ready graduates. These students aren’t being taught to think critically because they’re too busy being taught the skills necessary to perform a job.

Educators, particularly those who favor Common Core, love to throw around the term “critical thinking skills” in defense of the latest curriculum hype. But, with cultural trends pushing schools to produce tomorrow’s workers, it doesn’t take much to see that educational administrators are investing more in glorified job training than actually preparing students to be well-rounded, informed, independent citizens who can succeed at virtually anything they encounter.Writing about the end-goal of Common Core, Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project

Writing about the end-goal of Common Core, Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project rightly observe:

Common Core’s “workforce development” view is less about education and more about training. The idea is to teach students skills that transfer directly to the modern world of work. By implication, anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal is less important and should be minimized if not discarded.

One could argue that colleges shouldn’t be expected to fix in four years what it’s taken public education 12 years to screw up. The problem is they aren’t even willing to try.