Category Archives: Education

College Fail 101

One of the touted benefits of attending a college is that we are supposed to learn how to think critically. Yet colleges as a whole usually fail to aid us in this regard. Many students are probably under the impression that they have learned to think critically, perhaps because once they are in college they begin to question the worldviews that they were brought up under. But is questioning previous norms the same thing as thinking critically? Students likely are questioning previous worldviews because once in college they are presented with powerful arguments against some of the philosophies they knew.

Students usually come to college with a preconceived notion as to how the world works, and college professors present them with alternative views, and then college students believe they have learned how to think critically. Maybe some have. But I would venture that many have simply learned how to think more like their professors. Students may discard some of their prior beliefs, or they may discard all of them, or they may do some or none of the above. But in reality, critical thinking requires more than questioning prior beliefs and/or forming new beliefs.

Critical thinking requires the formation of at least three skills. Firstly, it requires the ability for one to be able to examine any argument, no matter how airtight it may or may not seem, and deconstruct it, noting the strengths and weaknesses of the argument. Secondly, critical thinking requires the ability to understand the various ways in which language is used, interpreting the linguistic and grammatical underpinnings in the said argument. Thirdly, the best realization of critical thinking would be one that formulates a student who possesses the ability to think independently and creatively. It requires a much higher force of intellect to create a substantial, innovative argument then it does to deconstruct a previously held argument. So, while the ability to deconstruct arguments is one benchmark of critical thinking, the ability to form visionary arguments reaches to even higher levels of critical thinking. In sum, the student’s intellect can and should be developed, especially toward the realms of creativity.

As you can see, our colleges have a long way to go in molding students of this nature. Undoubtedly, there are several reasons as to why this isn’t happening. But the reasons aren’t as important as the path toward solution. There must be some professors who have learned critical thinking. If they exist then they care about free expression and the examining of ideas even more than they care about a platform to propagate their own agenda. At least that is the hope. These professors are the ones most valuable for a democracy, an entity that thrives quite largely on the debating of ideas. In closing, we need to happily reward the experts who postulate critical thinking and forcefully deny the soapbox professors who only wish to proselytize in the classroom. But, of course, this is open for debate.

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Instruction in Information Criticism is Crucial

In an age of overwhelming information, Social Studies literacy education needs a heavy emphasis on teaching students critical consumption of information. Let’s face it; we are all bombarded with ideas on a daily basis and in just about every activity we engage. Our kids are constantly moving from one information overload to another without having the time to think about what they are thinking about. The leaders of tomorrow need to be well informed and this requires having the cognitive tools to sift through the informational mayhem. Social Studies teachers have a perfect platform to help them do this.

In, A Critical Literacy Perspective for Teaching Social Studies, Soares and Wood point out the important fact that not all voices are equal in the creation of social studies content. Essentially, the victors and often the affluent are the ones who write history. Being aware of this is a great start to begin critically examining historical perspectives.

Clearly one of the more dominant forms of information that young people encounter in our society comes through media outlets including the Internet, movies, and television. Do our kids have the skills or even the awareness to sort through all of this information with a critical eye?

We can teach the proper use of technology and the Internet by getting students to begin thinking about where information comes from. The Internet isn’t going away; it is becoming more and more a part of our lives. As teachers then, it is critical that we trade some traditional methods of teaching for methods that incorporate the world that is around us, including the Internet. Essentially, we are in the classroom partly to guide students through this world with a learned and analytical eye.

Social injustices are still all around us and our classroom is the perfect place to address these issues. We can examine the messages in the media by aiding students in developing both traditional literacy skills such as word meanings, and also modern critical literacy consumption, such as investigating sources of Internet information.

Hopefully students will begin to understand at least three things. The first is that social studies knowledge is a network of information written from a particular viewpoint. The second is that not everyone’s voice may be expressed and so we only have a microcosm of the story. The third is that the key to information consumption is being aware of the dynamics involved in information creation, such as the authorship bias, the purpose of the information, the structure of the information and so on. Simply making students aware of these three concepts will go a long way in developing a meaningful and relevant social studies education.

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