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Commentary: Education Standards for All

Provided by Susan Uchitelle
Commentator Susan Uchitelle

I believe that it is vitally important for students to use critical thinking in all of their education courses as it is the essence to successful retention of knowledge since one should systematically work through any problem or challenge presented.

Certainly I can accept some common educational core standards for all children, but I would like to assume that much of what has become a national standard has been taught all along, at least in many of our schools. Perhaps there are schools that have not been focusing upon such a standard as critical thinking, but have depended too much upon rote learning or quick answers. And my concern is that such schools may be where the teachers have been less prepared to teach critical thinking in all subject areas.

So I decided to ask some teachers in the St. Louis region what was their understanding of “critical thinking” and did they teach that process as part of their teaching and learning in the classrooms? If the answer was "yes" then I wanted to know how they incorporated this process in their classrooms. Keep in mind listeners, that critical thinking is not a course, but a process and a way to teach that integrates material with different ways to learn, to use information correctly and to get the anticipated results. While this may sound somewhat simple it is not and maybe that is why it is not part of a standard repertoire for many teachers.

For example, how would one go about narrowing the educational gap among all students, especially the new transfer students coming to suburban schools? How can a teacher successfully teach across a range of abilities in the same age group? To solve either challenge one would want to look at what was currently being done, consider the best way the students learn, set up several different learning style groups and consider in each group how children can best problem solve while using their critical thinking skills as an important component. Finally can the students tell how they came to the conclusions they did? Hopefully teachers, in spite of the pressure to complete materials in a timely fashion, do not rush through the curriculum as the process of critical thinking will lose out.

Critical thinking is not memorizing facts but a higher order of thinking. It is based upon an analysis of the issues or facts involved, considering a variety of view points, including thoughts of others on the same subject even if controversial, and finally working carefully through a problem and coming to a conclusion.

For teachers to be successful it takes skilled teaching, tremendous patience and an end goal that the teacher has in mind. This is hard for teachers to learn and implement well. Additional training may be needed for some. Good teachers whether they teach in the inner city, rural areas or suburban areas know, fortunately, how to teach these skills to all children. One teacher gave me an example. He said, “I give students a problem, tell them to write down the steps they took in solving the problem. Then when I talk with them I ask what their goal was. If students went right to the answer I then back tracked and ask them to tell me each step along the way until they see that they need to take a larger overview in solving the problem or analyzing a passage from a story.”

It is apparent that those students in all of our schools that are most successful are those who have learned the skills of critical thinking and use them in their work.

And they are the ones who will be prepared for the future.