Why Schools Should Teach Critical Thinking (Part 1)
There was an article that made the rounds last December titled “Why Schools Shouldn’t Teach Critical Thinking.” I read it, and saw various rebuttals online as well as some interesting discussions. I wanted to say something, but couldn’t really frame my thoughts adequately and so dropped it. However, I’ve been reading Richard Paul’s work on critical thinking and over and over, I keep finding things that rebut the whole premise of Carl Hendrick’s article.
To be clear, Hendrick’s position in this article is “Instead of teaching generic critical-thinking skills, we ought to focus on subject-specific critical-thinking skills…” At first glance, he seems to be making a good case. Most of his position is based on the lack of transferability of skills.
The transfer problem is a real one, and Paul also addresses it often when he talks about teaching critical thinking skills. I will address this more in another post because I don’t have time right now.
Unfortunately, Hendrick focuses on one particular area of research to support his position, and that research isn’t about critical thinking skills. It’s about brain training games, which is not even remotely analogous.
For one thing, most brain training games don’t make claims about critical thinking skills. They tend to claim improvements in memory, focus, speed, multitasking, and problem solving. (The research, as Hendrick points out, doesn’t support those claims.) Critical thinking involve none of those things, and instead is entirely about metacognition.
By repeatedly claiming that critical thinking skills can’t transfer, Hendrick is making the claim that people can only think about their thinking in one domain. The very existence of the skeptical movement disproves this. Unfortunately, I’m in the middle of a very busy period at work and can’t write out a full rebuttal now, so here’s a preview of what I’ll be writing in my next posts:
- From his examples, Hendrick appears to misunderstand what critical thinking actually means.
- From his other examples, Hendrick appears to also misunderstand what schools’ purpose is.
- Hendrick also showed a lack of critical thinking on his own by cherry-picking quotes out of context (the context of the entire body of research on the subject).