I just stood up on my soap box and proclaimed that critical thinking skills are necessary. Why?

Because our educational systems no longer develop critical thinking skills in our young students. We no longer teach thinking.

We test. Pass or Fail. We aren’t nurturing well read, innovators or delighted students. We are manufacturing human cogs in the wheels of commercial profit. Nope. I am not a socialist. I am a realist and here are some thoughts to consider.

I learned about mortgages in the fourth grade. I had no idea what a mortgage meant but I could figure out the math.

I learned the fundamentals of measurement and division by creating block print lettering in art class.

Music and math held hands for tempo.

Stuff added up, subtracted, divided or multiplied based on a series of classes that involved art, music, science, math and reading.  All the concepts fed the next module in understanding how my world, culture and society functioned. Oddly, it made sense to me as a fourth grader.

Yes, there were tests but as a support system to ensure that I was getting the content.

Why do I remember this so vividly over fifty years later?

An interesting thing happened to me in the fourth grade. I got really sick and ended up being tutored at home. The teacher was a wonderful woman who encouraged thinking, mistakes and the option of REDO.

At the same time, NEW MATH was introduced into the curriculum. That meant I had to learn a new way of doing math instead of the old formulas I learned for the first three years in school. We used the alphabet instead of numbers. Here’s a sample of new math:

Commutative property of addition is a + b = b +a [ the numbers in any order will equal the same.]

I am at best an average math student and this still sticks with me. Why? Because it taught me about numbers in a new way – a relational way which was different from learning things by rote, like memorizing the multiplication table.

The learning held meaning, visually and conceptually.

Once I got that meaning, I could then apply it to other areas for development. Music for time signatures and tempo. Centering my block prints evenly in art class. Understanding the metric system in science.

It was learning how one thing could be applied to other aspects of my life.

So what do we have today? Tests. Tests that validate state mandated teacher performance as well as students (MCAS in Massachusetts). But when does the understanding of the context arrive? We have students and young people entering the workforce who cannot apply what they have learned in life situations.

A familiar refrain I hear is “Just tell me what to do.” And, that works okay for repetitive tasks but fails miserably when brainstorming is required. When problem solving techniques are needed.

Thinking as a skill must not be relegated to private schools. Teaching critical thinking skills must be incorporated into our educational systems to ensure not just a passing grade but skills for survival. Get involved with your child’s schooling and learn what the administration’s most important targets are for success measurement. You might be surprised.

It might be doing mortgage rates proficiently without knowing what a mortgage is.

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