Image courtesy of Horia Varlan/Flickr.

No less a bastion of critical and scientific thinking – Scientific American – has published the strangest essay about teaching critical thinking to young people. According to Dennis Bartels, critical thinking is best taught outside the classroom.

Apparently, young people are not graduating from high school as very good critical thinkers, and, writes Bartels:

“Informal learning environments tolerate failure better than schools. Perhaps many teachers have too little time to allow students to form and pursue their own questions and too much ground to cover in the curriculum and for standardized tests…. For that, we have a robust informal learning system that eschews grades, takes all comers, and is available even on holidays and weekends.”

What comprises this robust learning system? “Museums and other institutions of informal learning” along with The Daily Show and The Maker Faire.

Museums and The Daily Show are great, but to depend upon them to teach our children critical thinking is not only folly; it is utterly irresponsible. Bartels is correct that critical thinking is paramount, but his solution is backwards. Instead of throwing up our hands and accepting the sorry state of schooling that fails to teach this most important skill to our kids, we ought to commit ourselves to the following:

1. Embrace a bigger purpose for schooling than passing standardized math and reading tests and “competing in the global economy.” Our students need to grow up to be solutionaries for a just, healthy and peaceful world, and they need critical and creative thinking skills to achieve this goal.

2. Identify what forms of teaching and learning produce critical and creative thinkers and jettison curricula and approaches that don’t achieve these goals.

3. Have schools do what Bartel suggests informal institutions do so well: eschew grades, take all comers, embrace questions, welcome failure, and while we’re at it, get rid of standardized tests.

~ Zoe

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm; Above All, Be Kind; and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach
My TEDxYouth@BFS “Educating for Freedom”
My TEDxYouth@CEHS “How to Be a Solutionary”

Like our blog? Please share it with others, comment, and/or subscribe to our RSS feed.