What Should We Really Be Teaching?

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What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#1  Postby hackenslash » Feb 13, 2014 12:36 pm

Motivated by an exchange in another thread, and some things I've been pondering for a few years, I thought it might be interesting to explore whether our education systems are actually as effective as they could be.

For some considerable time, I've been thinking that there's something sorely missing at the very foundation of the education of our children: Critical thinking.

True enough, we've begun to move away from the more pedagogical approach to education and toward something a bit more androgogical, but we still don't encourage our children to challenge paradigms, or to properly assess truth claims.

I myself came to critical thought quite late (and there are some hereabouts who would suggest that I still haven't come to it :lol:) and, in fact, looking back on my attitude toward some things, I realise just how uncritical I was at times. An instance comes to mind in a book I read some years ago. The book itself is unimportant but, suffice it to say, I accepted a good deal of what was in it on face value, and there were some pretty wild claims in it. It was written by an authoritative source, a respected scholar in his field, and I, a mere layman, was ill-equipped to challenge it with any confidence. Assessing it now, I realise that much of it was bollocks. I'm sure most of us have had some experience of this.

When we send our children to school, their teachers are set up as unassailable, and I wonder if this isn't the source of many problems. If I look at a couple of the current threads on the forum, this is reasonably apparent, I think. James' We are more retarded than cavemen thread, for example, and particularly the UK: changes to A level philosophy syllabus thread are indicative of the problem, IMO, and that's even before we get into the numerous threads about what people believe and why.

It seems to me that instituting proper lessons in critical thinking and logical analysis from the earliest days of school might just address these problems and possibly even more. If we taught our children to properly assess truth claims from the earliest age, we might actually begin to see the benefits in a broader social context.

Is this just a pipe dream?

Discuss.

Edit: Addition of URLs.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#2  Postby chairman bill » Feb 13, 2014 1:23 pm

I agree. There is actually an A level in critical thinking, but many universities won't accept it for entry, and discount its UCAS points. Bloody stupid. I'd make it an essential. It's certainly more important than a GCSE in maths, unless studying a maths-based subject.

I'd like to see a Critical Thinking GCSE, as part of the core curriculum.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#3  Postby Doubtdispelled » Feb 13, 2014 1:32 pm

Off the top of my head... without thinking about the whole thing for more time than it took to read...
hackenslash wrote:If we taught our children to properly assess truth claims from the earliest age

This immediately brought to mind a vision of a classroom full of infants, or juniors, all peering quizzically at their teacher and saying, almost as one, 'Are you quite sure about that....?

:lol:
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#4  Postby Fallible » Feb 13, 2014 2:02 pm

I would like to see critical thinking as a core part of the curriculum. I certainly consider myself worse off for never having had any formal training in this area and having to muddle my way through with my own brand of shoddy, piecemeal scepticism as a result. However, sadly I do think this is a pipe dream at the moment, with the continued insistence on giving religion undue reverence in schools. Sure, it's good to "learn", the government wants us all to ''learn'' in a nice measurable way, but there are still apparently some things we are expected not to question.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#5  Postby Sendraks » Feb 13, 2014 2:16 pm

chairman bill wrote:I agree. There is actually an A level in critical thinking, but many universities won't accept it for entry,


Probably because so many university courses focus on teaching their students to regurgitate the answers to exam questions rote.
No critical thinking required.

The system is shot from top to bottom. :(
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#6  Postby chairman bill » Feb 13, 2014 2:27 pm

Sendraks wrote:... so many university courses focus on teaching their students to regurgitate the answers to exam questions rote.
No critical thinking required ...


Your evidence for that being ...
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#7  Postby Fallible » Feb 13, 2014 2:28 pm

I would say the reverse is true - the higher you go, the more you are expected to do your own studying and come up with your own answers.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#8  Postby Sendraks » Feb 13, 2014 2:56 pm

chairman bill wrote:
Sendraks wrote:... so many university courses focus on teaching their students to regurgitate the answers to exam questions rote.
No critical thinking required ...


Your evidence for that being ...


My university education......
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#9  Postby chairman bill » Feb 13, 2014 3:00 pm

Ah, the old anecdote as evidence ploy.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#10  Postby Sendraks » Feb 13, 2014 3:04 pm

chairman bill wrote:Ah, the old anecdote as evidence ploy.


Indeed. It is all I've got though. That and my friends who went to different universities but had similar experiences.

Mind you, this almost 20 years ago. Maybe things have gotten better since then?
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#11  Postby Sendraks » Feb 13, 2014 3:05 pm

Fallible wrote:I would say the reverse is true - the higher you go, the more you are expected to do your own studying and come up with your own answers.


Alas, that was apparent at all on my course and for the students on related courses. That amounted to about 100 or so students all receiving the same "education" about what they needed to pass an exam.

Sad times. :(
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#12  Postby chairman bill » Feb 13, 2014 3:08 pm

Well I've studied at four universities, taught in three, and at no time has regurgitation been part of what goes on
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#13  Postby Matthew Shute » Feb 13, 2014 3:10 pm

Sendraks wrote:
chairman bill wrote:Ah, the old anecdote as evidence ploy.


Indeed. It is all I've got though. That and my friends who went to different universities but had similar experiences.


The plural of anecdote is not data. :evilgrin:
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#14  Postby Sendraks » Feb 13, 2014 3:10 pm

chairman bill wrote:Well I've studied at four universities, taught in three, and at no time has regurgitation been part of what goes on


Then I guess I was unlucky. It certainly left a very sour taste in my mouth about university education. :(
Whatever your experience is, doesn't change mine.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#15  Postby Fallible » Feb 13, 2014 3:12 pm

Sounds like I was at uni at around the same time as you, but have had a much different experience. My direct experience is only to MA level, but my understanding is that if you go further you have to identify your own specific area for study, and even at degree and MA level there is a component to the course where you must produce dissertations which deal with areas which you yourself develop. However I suppose there is some variation depending on the course.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#16  Postby laklak » Feb 13, 2014 3:14 pm

We've taken it even further with our standardized tests that all students must pass. For the best reasons, of course, but the result has been rote memorization of the test material.

[anecdote] My ex sister-in-law was a teacher in the New York state system. She once added up all the hours of compulsory education mandated by the state legislature - so many hours of AIDS awareness, so many hours of black history, so many hours of woman's studies, that sort of thing. She calculated they'd have to spend 12 hours a day in school if they wanted to teach anything else like reading, writing, maths or history.[/anecdote]
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#17  Postby chairman bill » Feb 13, 2014 3:15 pm

Sendraks wrote:
chairman bill wrote:Well I've studied at four universities, taught in three, and at no time has regurgitation been part of what goes on


Then I guess I was unlucky. It certainly left a very sour taste in my mouth about university education. :(
Whatever your experience is, doesn't change mine.


Indeed not, but it does undermine your general claim about higher education
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#18  Postby surreptitious57 » Feb 13, 2014 3:21 pm

Some random thoughts on the question asked by hack and also general observations on education that may be relevant too

Bit of a dichotomy in hacks basic assessment because of conflicting interests. It is no good telling children one second that they should critically assess all truth claims and then proceed to teach them truth claims you do not want them to question
I know he did not say this but that is what would happen if one applied this to young children whose minds are way too under developed to comprehend the significance of critical thinking in the first place. Again he did not specify particular age but as young as possible. I would like him to be more specific so one has some ball park to operate from in this respect. Now do not have a figure myself but definitely not before secondary school as that is way too young in my opinion

Critical thinking can be taught but the real problem is in getting one to adopt it as their basic modus operandi. That can
only come from within. Leading a horse to water and all that. Now no one told me to become an atheist and then become interested in science and become a member of Rat Skep and engage with seriously educated individuals and consequently improve my own education and critical thinking skills. Even if they did the decision to see it all through could only come
from me. Now am not suggesting that one should just leave all to their own devices. Far from it now. But one just needs
to realise that doing a course in critical thinking will not guarantee an automatic success. For in the final analysis it is up
to the individual themselves. So complete enthusiasm for this should be tempered with understanding of its limitations

In this country we send half our student population to university. So they should by default be familiar with critical thinking even if they do not automatically study a science. This then should filter down to those who are non graduates who may be employed by them. In tum they should pass it on to their children. So the entire country should therefore have some basic understanding of critical thinking over time. While that is fine in theory it actually does not translate too well into practice
For unless one chooses a career in science or in maths ones critical thinking may not always be employed that extensively

And one other problem is the internet. On the one hand it can be used as an educational tool but even on rational forum sites good old human nature takes over. Sometimes even the most seriously academic want a laugh or to debate their pet subject which does not involve much critical thinking. In other words we are as much emotional beings as logical ones. Rat Skep would be very different indeed if all those who visited her debated only heavy stuff twenty four seven. So therefore
one has to make allowances. For even the most scientifically minded can think the wrong way. Einsteins famous rejection
of quantum mechanics being the all time classic example of this. So even the greats are not immune now

So while I completely agree and morally support hack in this I think one has to be cautious for the reasons outlined above
But a good sounding board nonetheless to start this debate with in my humble opinion . Anyway that is my very rough take
on it at this precise moment in time. More subtle analysis may take somewhat longer as is usually the case in such matters

One other thing. Grade inflation is a complete no no. It reduces the value of an exam by making it easier for a pass to be obtained in order to gain more of them for political reasons. Completely and utterly unacceptable. So thank God then that here in England the A Level is being phased out and replaced with the International Baccalaureate instead. Apparently it is very hard. Good. Because that is what it should be. So that is a step in the right direction and a foundation upon which to provide a better educated population. It should of course have happened much earlier but better late than never
Last edited by surreptitious57 on Feb 13, 2014 3:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#19  Postby ScientificSkeptic » Feb 13, 2014 3:24 pm

I was watching this speech by a math professor that explained we don't need to know anything past 5th grade math for 90% of people's careers.
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Re: What Should We Really Be Teaching?

#20  Postby laklak » Feb 13, 2014 3:28 pm

He's probably right. In fact, even in areas like engineering you don't actually use higher maths, the computers do it for you.
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