we haven’t taught critical thinking particularly well

Yesterday I got told to “do some research” &, by extension, to think critically. The biologist in me cringed a little when I read it (and not because of the advice about doing research).

 

Biology teachers I know suggested that perhaps everyone should take the NCEA standard that lets students learn about the basic genetics that this commenter got so very, very wrong. But personally I think that’s not really the issue, and it isn’t the fix either.

This is because the relevant genetics content isn’t taught until students hit year 12, and sadly a lot of students (up to 60%, by some estimates) have decided not to continue with the sciences beyond year 10. That in itself is a problem that needs addressing, but it’s not my focus for this post.

To me there are probably two things in play, the first being a lack of critical thinking (which includes a certain amount of reflection on what you think you know), and that’s something that has to be learned and practiced. What’s the source of this information? Is it reliable? How can I check it to see if the information is accurate? Is there evidence to support it? What was the purpose in sharing it? Are there things I’m assuming or taking for granted? How can I extend my understanding of this material? What are my own biases (we all have them)? And so on¹.

These are skills that can be & are taught in school, and yet – at risk of upsetting some of my teaching colleagues – I believe we can and should do better. Like any skills, those of critical thinking need practice to acquire and grow rusty from lack of practice and reinforcement. How do we achieve that in an overcrowded school curriculum?

And the second? A profound suspicion of and distrust in science, which in this instance does make me wonder, with some sadness, if this particular person would have even been inclined to check what they were writing against even a biology primer. This is, perhaps, the hardest challenge to address.

 

¹ There are a range of online tools to support and develop critical thinking skills: here, here (including a link to a page on applying critical thinking to fake news),and here, for example.

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