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Do you think critical thinking should be compulsory in schools in the UK?

Author Topic: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?  (Read 6161 times)

Offline survivalist13

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Hi
I've been spending some time thinking about politics recently and after some deliberation came to the conclusion that the most effective way to improve the system would be to give everyone a grounding in how to reason correctly.
Critical thinking for anyone not familiar with the term is the concept of "thinking about thinking" - newbielink:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking [nonactive] It is in many ways the basis for science and the scientific principle, "The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and meta-cognition." It takes little to appreciate that these are what science is fundamentally about.

However this doesn't only apply to science but to every day decision making, and where is decision making most prominent? Politics. It is far more powerful to teach someone how to think rather than what to think; it's really that whole give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man how to fish and he'll eat for the rest of his life thing. It is for these reasons that I think teaching our children these skills through primary school and secondary school would have numerous and far reaching consequences. Not least I'd hope would be a great proportion deciding to follow science in later life.

I'm interested in how many agree and how, assuming I'm not talking garbage, that this might be achieved. Thanks for your time.


 

Offline peppercorn

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #1 on: 08/06/2012 16:05:55 »
It's an admirable idea in as much that too many people appear to be unaware that not all arguments are equally valid or that one should carry substantially more weight than another.  That is if they are even inclined to question the 'truths' they are offered (by media, parents, peers or institutions of government or religion).   No doubt, it is human nature to accept myth and pseudoscience to be as real as everything else but it would certainly be nice to encourage a more questioning generation to follow.

It's rather a long time since I was of school age, so I don;t know if children are required to take a general science subject in their first years of secondary education. If they are (and I would argue it would be worthwhile) then this would seem a good place to integrate critical thinking; although earlier would be better still!

Also, check out my profile for my view of Critical Thinking ;)
  :o
 

Offline survivalist13

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #2 on: 08/06/2012 16:40:35 »
If your interested this is how it works in secondary school atm (although I think they might have changed it slightly in last 2 years). The first 3 years you do "general science" which is basically physics, chemistry and biology modules all sort of combined into one subject. At GCSE you must then carry on with "double science" which is some what misleading as you still do physics, chemistry and biology. It is called double science because you get 2 GCSEs from it, both being general science. Most people (not sure whether everyone is, if they aren't then they should be) are also offered the choice to do "triple science" where you do receive a GCSE in physics, chemistry and biology.

There are some lose reference to the scientific method but its never investigated in any real detail even in triple. I would agree that a greater emphasis on what science really is and less on learning facts would be an improvement here. However I would also argue that critical thinking is important enough to be taught as its own subject, and as such it would have a greater effect in demonstrating its wider implications. I would reduce the time spent on religious studies, pshe and citizenship in order to free up sufficient time to teach it.

And your profile has some great satire.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #3 on: 08/06/2012 21:32:53 »
"Critical Thinking" is difficult to teach. 

As far as HS science, it has been years since I've taken it.  However, I doubt experimental design is really taught. 

One might run an experiment, and perhaps play with the parameters a bit, but does one ever sit down and think about the construction of a hypothesis, design of an experiment to test the hypothesis, and either proving or disproving the hypothesis?

In a sense, that seems to be the goals of the science fairs (which I don't think we had when I was in school), but I do have to wonder how many children actually are able to really actually formulate and test a hypothesis.

I remember in O-Chem in college, we had to characterize an unknown.  A most interesting project where one gets a sample, does some basic tests on the sample, then perhaps a reaction and more tests on the final product.  Then look up the physical properties to try to determine what it was.  Unfortunately I messed up one of the fundamental tests, so that I was off by quite a bit in something like the melting point.  Eventually I realized that one of my tests was incorrect, so I then had to go back and determine where the inconsistency was.  Anyway, it was a great (if not a bit stressful) project.

In medicine, they push for a "differential diagnosis".  Perhaps a similar idea where a set of symptoms is presented, and then one must come up with all possible diagnoses, and the possible tests to differentiate between them.

Could this be extended to school?  Certainly one must have far more than just rote memorization.
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #4 on: 09/06/2012 01:18:12 »
I have just voted yes, but I have severe reservations about how it might be "taught", because a lot of teaching is counterproductive and puts people off things. Being "taught" English at school left me with an intense hatred of Shakespeare; being "taught" music at school destroyed my love of classical music; etc. Bad teaching is worse than no teaching.

If, however, a good way of delivering an education in critical thinking could be guaranteed, then it would be worth doing, and most people will probably agree with that, so the real issue is how and when to teach it. I would aim at the very early stages, because once people are set in their ways they're hard to shift, and the ideal age to start on that would be 3 years old. My father deliberately trained me to think for myself by telling me all sorts of nonsense so that I knew I could never take anything on trust - I was forced to think it all out for myself so as not to be laughed at for believing something that didn't stack up. Children generally believe what they're told by people they look up to and parrot it - it becomes part of their mental model of reality and they become emotionally tied to it such that it becomes hard for them to shift ground. If new information doesn't fit with their model, they simply reject it, and if it's an area of hot dispute they will collect information which agrees with that wrong position to attempt to back it up.

Children need to be taught not to trust what they're told, but to question all of it using their own powerful minds. When they believe something, they need to be taught to question that belief from time to time to make sure it really stacks up, and to help in that regard they should (when they're older) learn to read what the enemies of their beliefs are saying rather than (or at least in addition to) the people who share those beliefs - if you only read the stuff that agrees with what you already believe, you aren't going to make any breakthroughs: the most brilliant moments in your intellectual life might include some new discoveries, but the bulk of them will be discoveries that your mental model of reality is WRONG! Being wrong, or rather discovering that you're wrong, is not a bad thing - quite the opposite. It opens up opportunities to make an advance in the direction of greater understanding.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #5 on: 09/06/2012 03:31:47 »
One portion of college mathematics is proofs which is part of the critical thinking.

But, perhaps one must have 12 years of elementary mathematics before acquiring the skills necessary to do complex proofs.
 

Offline survivalist13

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #6 on: 09/06/2012 12:22:27 »
Quote
I have just voted yes, but I have severe reservations about how it might be "taught", because a lot of teaching is counterproductive and puts people off things. Being "taught" English at school left me with an intense hatred of Shakespeare; being "taught" music at school destroyed my love of classical music; etc. Bad teaching is worse than no teaching.

A good point, however like you say this can be said about all subjects and you wouldn't use it as an argument for not teaching English in schools. I suppose really there is a level of teaching below which it is actually counter productive or at least of no benefit (IT lessons come to mind). The obvious way to go about adding teaching of critical thinking in schools would be to send the teachers on a course. I can't really comment on the quality of most teaching courses, not being a teacher, but I think the key to making this successful would be for someone like Ben Goldarce (author of bad science) who is clearly very enthusiastic about the subject to provide the courses. Working on the policy that his enthusiasm would transfer to the teachers and then subsequently to the children.   

Quote
If, however, a good way of delivering an education in critical thinking could be guaranteed, then it would be worth doing, and most people will probably agree with that, so the real issue is how and when to teach it. I would aim at the very early stages, because once people are set in their ways they're hard to shift, and the ideal age to start on that would be 3 years old.

I think it's almost certainly correct that the earlier it's taught the larger the impact (which is why I said it should be started in primary schools). There's probably two real reasons for this: one it can therefore have a larger effect on the rest of their teaching, two and arguably more importantly younger children will be more receptive to it as by secondary school they will have started to develop beliefs that would impede their learning. For instance if you try to teach creationists how to analysis the evidence for evolution you will make little headway because their belief has been entrenched since a young age. If you had however given them the same lesson back when they were young I suspect it would have been more successful (although I can't sight any evidence to support this claim). On a side note the best way to actually convince a creationist that their belief is wrong seems to be to teach them critical thinking but in another context such as ghosts or aliens and then by their own or with some encouragement hope they apply those skills to the other aspects of life. Again I don't have any evidence to support this but it seems to make sense.

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the bulk of them will be discoveries that your mental model of reality is WRONG! Being wrong, or rather discovering that you're wrong, is not a bad thing - quite the opposite. It opens up opportunities to make an advance in the direction of greater understanding.


This is very true, my understanding of physics advances most profoundly when I'm told something that doesn't fit the model I have in my head, which forces me to rethink the model by finding new information, asking questions and thinking. And often the result is not just that I'm able to get one more mark on the exam but I have a much better understanding of the question and how things fits together. Or to put it another way you don't really know the limits or flaws of your understanding until you are proven to be wrong.

Quote
One portion of college mathematics is proofs which is part of the critical thinking.

But, perhaps one must have 12 years of elementary mathematics before acquiring the skills necessary to do complex proofs.

I assume you mean university maths as I wouldn't really count the proofs at A level to be critical thinking.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #7 on: 09/06/2012 17:10:13 »
I think it should be taught in schools, but I settle for it being enforced in politics and journalism.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #8 on: 09/06/2012 17:49:10 »
Just think of schools full of free-thinking children.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #9 on: 09/06/2012 18:13:12 »
No matter how well someone understands the basic principles of logic and reason, it is almost impossible to teach to people to think critically if they don't have anything to critically think about. With the exception of recognizing outright contradictions, it is difficult for students to analyze an argument involving biology or economics or history if they know absolutely nothing about biology or economics or history. I believe critical thinking  follows naturally and easily from any in depth understanding of an area of knowledge. And while we can't be experts about everything, having a in depth knowledge about one or two areas at least gives one the understanding that other fields are probably equally complex, and that one should at least ask questions or not rely on a single source of information.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #10 on: 10/06/2012 05:11:41 »
But if I were going to try to teach  any student about critical thinking, I would start with logical fallacies. There is a great list of them on this website, and they all appear regularly in political speeches, editorials, advertising, and other persuasive material.  http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/
Move the your arrow around to the different symbols to view the different common fallacies.
« Last Edit: 10/06/2012 05:13:41 by cheryl j »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #11 on: 10/06/2012 09:45:18 »
It took me a little while to find this.
http://xkcd.com/843/
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #12 on: 11/06/2012 03:03:00 »
There's certain skills that school needs to teach.

Things like, how to remember stuff, how to think logically, how to do polemics, common traps, stuff like that.
 

Offline kowalskil

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #13 on: 23/06/2012 16:09:14 »
I think it should be taught in schools, but I settle for it being enforced in politics and journalism.

Teaching geometry is a good example of teaching "critical thinking."

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« Last Edit: 24/06/2012 13:53:11 by peppercorn »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #14 on: 23/06/2012 20:53:46 »
I heard a discussion on NPR about religious fanatics that wished to instil doubt about evolution through education.

Anyway, so they wanted to foster a discussion about the difficulties of abiogenesis, and random mutations leading to modern humanity as part of the school curriculum.

Part of critical thinking is to take a theory, and look at both its strengths and weaknesses, and consider alternative explanations, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the alternative reasoning.

Are our children capable of truly considering the different levels of a theory?

Or, should we just concentrate on rote memorization?
 

Offline damocles

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #15 on: 26/06/2012 23:40:14 »
Back in the dark ages when I was a secondary school student, our compulsory English Expression subject at year 11-12 level contained a large section (25% if I remember correctly) of 'Clear Thinking'. It dealt mainly with errors of logic, and illegitimate argument techniques, and drew most of its examples from newspaper articles and non-fiction books. On the final (external, state-wide) examination paper we were presented with a passage. We had to summarise the argument, and then evaluate it, pointing out invalid steps, truisms, straw men, etc. in the detail. This particular item counted 20-25% in the assessment of the subject.

A vestige of it remains in the compulsory English subject to the present, in spite of 'dumbing down', decentralization, and a move away from examination-style to project-style assessment.

As far as making it compulsory, I tend to agree with David Cooper above. How it is taught, and what the students actually learn from it, are the two vital factors. Certainly it should be fitted somewhere in the school curriculum, in some form, in the compulsory subject part. But there is the question of horses to water and drinking. If we could even make thinking per se compulsory in schools, let alone critical thinking, that would be quite an achievement!

On another aspect of this question, most Science textbooks and North American style school treatments of the "Scientific Method" use either the "inductive generalisation" or "falsification" models of scientific method. Each of these has been soundly refuted, both in terms of logical shortcomings, and in terms of being a quite inaccurate representation of how scientists actually design and conduct their experiments.
 

Offline namaan

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #16 on: 28/06/2012 03:03:46 »
How I answer will likely depend on what one means to be reasonable end goals of teaching critical thinking. The general answer from me is a tentative yes. But in certain contexts its effect might be so weak as to be useless.

Consider: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/frontal-cortex/2012/06/daniel-kahneman-bias-studies.html

So if the end goals are the better understanding of science for those actually interested in studying science, then it can only help. But it's clear the intentions are far broader than that, and in this case I'm not sure it will really help much. If anything, it might have an unintended negative effect of making everyone think they're more intelligent, with some of them letting their ego block their selves from and become that much more impervious to any actual deep critical thinking. Human beings are after all, creatures of ego.
« Last Edit: 28/06/2012 03:07:25 by namaan »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
« Reply #17 on: 28/06/2012 19:06:53 »
Texan republicans want to make it illegal (along with voting, if you are not white).
feature=player_embedded
 

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Re: Should critical thinking be made compulsory in schools?
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