In 2010 I wrote what follows below. Since then, if you go to Truthout (GOP Declares no more critical thinking in schools, (http://truth-out.org/news/item/10144-texas-gop-declares-no-more-teaching-of-critical-thinking-skills-in-texas-public-schools) one can clearly begin to see just how damaging the forces of ideological control are and how irrationalism and unreason litter America’s cultural landscape.
Reactionary forces understand that in order to maintain high levels of concentration of social wealth alongside rampant inequality that both need each other and run concurrently, the average citizen must not know that he or she is being controlled. Freedom truly must become ignorance and this ‘alchemy’ is accomplished through neo-feudal ideological forces that pose as education while assuring false consciousness.
Critical thinking, or reasoning, is the process of arriving at conclusions based on reasons. From the perspective of the ruling class, examining this process called ‘reasoning’ and the conclusions that it births is never to be taught, nor should it be. As they are fond of saying in Texas, “If you teach the farmworker to think who will pick the crops?”
As I write at Truthout, critically examining the decisions of elites is considered subversive, as is reasoning itself.
Supernaturalist thinking is what all elites in empires prefer. We see this now where, as Kattha Pollitt noted in the Nation recently, 46% of all college graduates in the US believe in creationism (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/646362-what-s-the-matter-with-creationism).
We also see it throughout history:
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”
——-Martin Luther, Table Talk
From September, 2010 (http://www.dailycensored.com/2010/09/07/critical-thinking-what-the-ruling-class-fears-most-3/)
Abdicating reasoning: Surrendering the debate over teaching, testing and assessment to the constables of obedience training
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education confronts the issue of whether students are really learning in college classrooms and if so, how they might be able to assess learning (September 5, 2010,Why Teaching Is Not Priority No. 1http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Teaching-Is-Not-Priority/124301/).
Of course this is all part and parcel of the new ‘evidentiary’ based learning that the Obama administration says it wants. Secretary Arne Duncan and his business cohorts, on the other hand, see ‘evidence of learning’ in test scores based on the anorexic bulimic learning model of memorization and ‘thought starving’ – tube feeding and chamber pot results.
The issue of assessment and thus testing is important. Those educators that teach ‘reasoning’ or critical thinking need to know if their students are learning. How can they do this? The answer really goes back to the work done in the 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Reagan administration began the decimation of the Department of Education and rolled out A Nation at Risk. This silly document was to have large waves of repercussions on teaching and learning as both were boiled down to saturated fat or ‘information eating’. We still have not survived the horrible policies of A Nation at Risk and its sordid recommendations. It simply took a bit of time to morph into No Child Left Behind and now the horrendous Race to the Top.
Yet there has been much research on how to assess students to see if they are learning to reason. Sometime back in the early 1990’s, while teaching kindergarten and first grade I wrote an article entitled: REASONING READINESS: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STANDARDS AND CRITICAL THINKING AS A DEVELOPMENTAL NECESSITY. You can find it at the Rouge Forum (http://www.rougeforum.org/newspaper/summer2001/reasoning.htm).
In it you will see both a critique of standardized testing, the same tests I was forced to administer to my students, and how teaching and assessment for critical thinking can be accomplished and taught. I argued that students are not only ready to reason at five years old but they must in order to become critical thinking adults. The notion that young students are not prepared to reason at a young age and therefore must be filled with pre-ordained knowledge before they can critically think is formalistic psychology and has been debunked by many studies too voluminous to quote here.
Of course the movement in critical thinking and critical pedagogy that took roots in the 1980’s before it was decimated by the right wing and ‘core standards’ crowd also involved work done in authentic assessment, such as portfolio assessments, student journal assessments, critical self-critique, and performance based learning based on relevancy in learning and teaching. All of this was quickly pushed aside and in the ‘Age of Forgetness’; it is all but lost on the generations of teachers that have come up in the ranks of teaching since then.
Left out of most teacher ‘training’ programs, critical thinking is not only never emphasized; it is not expected to be taught. Other than the three or four ‘questions’ at the back of the book critical thinking is really not well understood by most teachers nor their students. One cannot teach what one does not know and sadly the exception is the rule when it comes to teaching critical literacy. It is rarely taught.
Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, launched their new book, a fierce critique of modern academia called Higher Education? “The question mark in our title,” they write, “is the key to this book.” To their minds, little of what takes place on college campuses today can be considered either “higher” or “education.” They blame a system that favors research over teaching and vocational training over liberal arts. Tenure, they argue, does anything but protect intellectual freedom. And they’d like to see graduates worrying less about their careers, even if it means spending a year behind the cash register at Old Navy” (The Atlantic, Jennie Rothenberg Gritz July 28,2010, What’s Wrong With the American University System, http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/07/whats-wrong-with-the-american-university-system/60458/).
I certainly think that there is some truth to their claims, as education both ‘higher’ and early childhood education has been swallowed by commercial interests and concerns. As to the issue of ‘tenure’, this is more problematic and I would need much more time to write a about this issue. One thing we do know is that tenure protects teachers from arbitrary and capricious decisions by administrators and thus is the gatekeeper for academic freedom. However, this is not the purpose of mentioning the Hacker-Dreifus argument. It seems to me the more salient issue is not simply the material conditions of education, but also the ideological conditions as well. They are not separate nor are they blistered from each other; instead theory and practice must be seen as informing each other and thereby creating critical ‘praxis’.
Teaching ‘reasoning’ or critical thinking means that teachers themselves must understand what critical thinking is, how they use it in their daily lives, how they often fail to use it and how to actually set up the material and psychological conditions for teaching and assessing it. This is what is missing in education. Teachers are now simply dispensaries of rote information to be stomached as learning and they themselves really often do not know how to teach for thinking and thus of course cannot assess it. To be more blatant at the expense of elitist, many teachers simply are not critical thinkers themselves and thus can never be counted on to provide a rich curriculum to teach students how to think critically.
Until we begin to take critical thinking seriously; until we begin to make critical thinking a part of the curriculum teachers take when preparing for the life of teaching as well as a curriculum for daily life, we will never be able to put forth an alternative to the rancid calls for testing we hear from the corporate corridors of power. Nor will we be able to increase the critical thinking literacy rate of our citizens, promising more authoritarianism and a galloping declination in literacy. The real curriculum is life itself, of which reasoning should be a prominent part.
Of course this is not what the ruling class wants; in fact it is the last thing they wish. Gates, Walton, Eli Broad and the rest of the billionaire educational squatters who now control the purse strings of the educational agenda launched by the Duncan administration know that if citizens think critically their power will be challenged. The last thing they wish is evidentiary based learning for they know that their ruthless global economic policies, not to mention their educational polices, would come under severe scrutiny and criticism for its inequality and pervasive monopolization of everyday life. The reasoning mind is a threat to demagogues.
We are at a crossroads when it comes to discussions regarding teaching and learning. Unfortunately, what has been left out of the discussion both on the ‘right’ and ‘left’ has been the role of teaching ‘reasoning’ or critical thinking to students. Until we put this discussion back on the table and insist that students be taught to reason their way through subject matter and learn the art of self-reflection, we will continue lose the debate over teaching, learning and knowledge acquisition.
It seems unbelievable to me that after more than two decades of critical thinking and critical pedagogical discussions, in-services for teachers, countless books written, conferences and the like, we have historically suffered from amnesia once again and have thus surrendered the issue of authentic assessment to those who seek to assess obedience, not thinking. If we do not re-oxygenate the debate over assessment and testing with the need to teach and authentically assess reasoning, then we will continue to teach students what to think not how to think and as a result, will abdicate reasoning for regurgitation. We will also surrender the debate over teaching and education to corporate interests that work so hard each and every day to suffocate critical thinking.