The Illusion of Critical Thinking

“Progressive” educators are always going on about how they want to impart “critical thinking” rather than “rote memorization.” These intentions would be more believable if “progressives” showed any sign of critical thinking ability when they assess what students are actually capable of doing. For example:

In a false bow to so-called critical thinking, history and social studies activities often embrace questions and events so complex and perplexing that the nation’s greatest minds feel timorous in their presence, as the historian and essayist Paul Gagnon has noted. Prentice Hall’s high school textbook World History: Connections to Today, for instance, asks students to ponder the question, “Is war ever justified?” based on very short observations about war from the ancient Chinese warrior Sun Tzu, the Aztecs, Catherine the Great, José Marti, Gandhi, and a member of Another Mother Against War.

This is followed by an activity in which students “investigate” other points of view, finally expressing the viewpoint they “agree with most” in their own ways, which may be “an essay, a cartoon, a poem, a drawing or painting, a song, a skit, a video, or some other way.” In the same book, students are supposed to follow the same steps to “decide” such issues as “Is technology a blessing or curse?” and “Does diversity strengthen or weaken a society?”

From Gilbert Sewall, “Lost In Action: Are time-consuming, trivializing activities displacing the cultivation of active minds?,” American Educator (Summer 2000).

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