I just finished reading A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Educational Fads, which was published by The Foundation for Critical Thinking. In it the authors discuss the essential idea of various educational ‘fads’, proper educational uses and likely misuses of each. The fads range from school choice and Socratic questioning to integrated curriculum. Three of these fads stood out for me as important ideas that should be considered in more depth… and together as an educational strategy.
I believe critical thinking is the most important fad discussed, as it involves metacognition (thinking about thinking). When we think critically we reason, evaluate, judge and problem solve so that we produce the best thinking we can. When we think critically, we speak and listen with empathy, consider all viewpoints, think with an open mind, observe more carefully, persevere through a thought to an intelligent conclusion. Schools should teach critical thinking because this skill just might get us through any situation in life we might face.
I was not taught how to think critically in school… were you? We use critical thinking all throughout school (conducting science experiments, writing papers), but most of us are never specifically taught how and why it is important to think critically. We need to teach students this skill along with how to master test taking, how to develop good study habits and more. Most students muddle their way through and develop these skills and abilities on their own. Think of how much more successful they’d be if we’d just give them the right tools.
Educational Fads suggests the idea of teaching history as historical thinking, biology as biological thinking. Instead of memorizing our presidents, students should analyze presidencies in an historical context. Imagine the number of students who might be intrigued with science if it were taught this way. Our schools tend to teach in such a fragmented way that broad concepts are isolated instead of integrated into a larger perspective.
Citizens in today’s global world need to know how to think critically in order to effectively communicate with and work alongside others from various walks of life. We must learn how to communicate with people who live in vastly different cultures where perspectives are different and backgrounds diverse.
Genuine creativity builds on critical thought, and as the authors of Educational Fads state, something is not creative simply because it is different. Creativity involves thinking ‘outside the box’ in order to solve a problem, create something new, do something differently than it’s been done before. Simply thinking creatively will only get us so far. Creative thinking must be combined with critical thinking to truly produce distinctive results.
Creativity sparks the imagination to think in unique ways to do things, to solve problems – even in interactions with others in non-conforming ways. Creativity and imagination allow us to fathom the concept of putting a man on the moon, connecting mankind through this thing called the internet, inventing silly shoes called Crocs.
Folklore states that FedEx founder Fred Smith received a C on a term paper in which he outlined the basis for his idea for FedEx. Smith describes his thoughts not as a eureka moment, but as a simple observation. He described his thought process in a 2007 interview:
“As society automated, as people began to put computers in banks to cancel checks – rather than clerks – or people began to put sophisticated electronics in airplanes – society and the manufacturers of that automated society were going to need a completely different logistics system.” (From the May 6, 2007 blog posting: Interview with FedEx Founder Fred Smith – Yale University)
Was Fred Smith taught how to think creatively and critically? If he wasn’t, he was certainly doing it on his own. His idea began creatively, but was followed up with critical thinking in order to bring the idea to reality in a credible and viable way and it was thought out within a global perspective, and if it had not, FedEx might not be the company that it is today – or even exist at all. This is the kind of creative thinking which is combined with critical thinking that our schools must teach our students how to do. Instead of giving them a problem to solve that may have an obvious solution, we must challenge them to combine critical and creative thinking to seek new pathways to a solution or to a solution itself that would not have been reached otherwise, as Mr. Smith did – as so many innovators do.
Educational Fads describes global education as curriculum designed through a global perspective. In our increasingly diverse culture which resides in an increasingly open global community, global education is crucial for this and every future generation to participate in – in an age of nuclear capability, growing terrorism and an ever-increasing pool of diverse perspectives that have a voice in the global community.
Our schools serve as a microcosm of the larger world, and educators must prepare our children beginning at an early age to not only accept but embrace everyone’s differences – their differences in appearance, in thought, religion, ethnicity, background, and more. We must teach students to think beyond their classroom, beyond their community, instilling in them a global perspective from which to learn new concepts and ideas, new perspectives, new ways of considering the various aspects of the world.
In the United States people live at a physical disadvantage to most of the world, as we are separated by many miles and have developed preconceived notions about the world which in many cases are incorrect or flawed, due in part to our lack of critical thinking and to large degree due to our physical, emotional and intellectual separation from the rest of the world’s population. As the world grows closer because of technological advances that allow us to video conference with people globally with the touch of a button, purchase products from the remotest corners of the world with the click of a mouse, everyone must check their egos at the door; fairly address viewpoints with which we disagree; and empathize with others’ insights, perspectives and knowledge.
If educators worldwide embraced the idea of teaching critical and creative thinking in a global education setting, future generations would learn the importance of diversity, empathy and fair-mindedness – allowing us as educated citizens of the world to think about our world, those who are in it, and the problems we face as a shared civilization.