Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking’

Why Johnny Can’t Think Critically

November 3, 2009

I’m laying around with the flu right now.  As relaxing as that is, it does give me a bit of time to respond to an article my dad sent me:

The “everyone can do math” article is cool, and it’s true that students want to be successful and normally give you a better effort if they see small successes.  It’s interesting that the man featured in the article said he would see if his explanation was bad when a student didn’t understand and would change the lesson instead of automatically saying the student couldn’t do it.  Teaching is more and more leaning towards this philosophy, and I agree that we should focus on using only what works and discourage blaming student’s ability.

The problem is that students develop learned helplessness when lessons are constantly catered to them, and this affects their attitude and effort (notice these are different than ability.)  They don’t feel that they should have to work to understand anything.  However, in life it often takes an arsenal of tricks and study tools to communicate and understand subjects and other persons.  We will not always have things catered for us.  I have one student in my class that expects me to teach him the lesson over again individually during work time, and if I refuse to reteach everything he says, “But I don’t get it.  How am I supposed to do it?”  I’m trying to train him out of this thinking that he’s allowed not engage and not think critically about the lesson I give all the students and then wait for more tailored, individual instruction.  I’m trying to show him how to advocate for himself, take notes, ask classmates who are getting it questions, ask specific questions if I seem unclear, and come in at other times for more difficult problems.

I’m not so much afraid of our students being less talented than students of other countries.  I am afraid of the tremendous apathy I see in students, and I am afraid our students will not be able to critically engage with someone’s thoughts when those thoughts aren’t directed solely to that student.  I think this is why students are graduating lately and expecting jobs to be handed to them.  Generation me expects to not have to work for their $70k paycheck and are disillusioned when they have to work hard to make $35k.

I’m not simply saying “suck it up.”   I am saying that students need to advocate for themselves, use resources, ask questions, and figure out solutions if they have problems understanding material.  Right now I’m trying to find ways to teach these things to my kids.  Does anyone have ideas how to teach this alongside the curriculum?