Good teachers are both process and bottom line people. They think about how to get students to walk away with what the lesson was about that day. What will they know, what will they understand, what will they be able to do that they didn’t know, understand, or could not do before that class? When they create lesson plans they think about the process they will use get to the bottom line – student critical thought.
As education policy makers far removed from classrooms rethink everything in education we can’t forget that bottom line. In rethinking high school specifically, the bottom line is not to prepare students to fill job openings or to navigate technology. Those are ancillary goals of education. Employment needs and technology are too fluid. They change overnight.
However, what never goes out of style or becomes obsolete is simple… thinking critically. Every human invention, discovery or advance has been the product of thinking critically. Thinking critically lends itself to curiosity, to analysis, synthesis, and ultimately, to solutions.
How is critical thought achieved? The best teachers teach students to ask significant, probing questions. They also teach students to ask those questions.
“Why?” Students ask why in order to better understand the topic or issue better and find a better solution to a problem. In doing so students are able to explain why their answer was the right answer because, “ If you don’t know why, you still don’t know.”
“So what?” is another question students must learn to answer. So what if we tried it this way? So what makes that an important decision? So what makes that action important? By asking that question, students learn to critique as well as reason. It is essential to the arts of questioning and thinking critically.
Thinking critically must be at the center of any change. Teaching students to think critically will in turn encourage them to be curious, to ask why, to ask, as Robert Kennedy did, why not? It will allow them to challenge the limits of what they find in books or the visions of the future they are being handed or told to accept.
Teachers also need to be free to “think out of the box” to be able to create their own materials or methods that can become “best practices” and shared with others who find them both useful and helpful to students. Currently, more often than not, they are not allowed to do either.
Most teachers don’t have a PhD in education, but we know what works. We know that no matter how much things change, the one quality that separates man from animals is and has always been the ability to think critically. Thus only we have the ability to create and adapt to the world around us. No matter what changes are made to education, the bottom line is, and will always be, if you are not teaching students to think critically and challenging them to do it, you’re not educating them.
Why can’t our teachers do this right things? Policies created by non teachers and corporate/government run agencies.
So what will happen as a result? We already see the loss of our best teachers. We see the loss of critical thinking as a result of standardized tests and the huge amount of time dedicated to that effort. We see the loss of best practices and sharing. We see the demise of the best American education had to offer as nations like Finland succeed by taking those very processes we developed decades ago.