On World Teacher's Day, Stop Teachers Teaching Critical Thinking!

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MANILA: Today, Monday, 05 October 2015, is being celebrated World Teachers' Day, with the slogan "Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies" (unesco.org).

And that, folks, is starting the celebration on 2 wrong feet:

Left foot: "Empowering teachers" is vague enough it doesn't mean anything.

Right foot: Teachers have nothing to do with building sustainable societies!

I should know. I am a certified teacher; I passed the very first Teachers Exam in 1964 with a grade of 80.6%, not bad for someone who did not review (there were no Civil Service reviewers then). I have been a student of sustainable development since probably 40 years ago when I began working as an information officer of the Forest Research Institute, an agency under the Department of Natural Resources. I'm not a forester, but already then I was a writer with an open mind, so I learned that you cannot abuse the forest and yet pursue sustainable development up and down the mountainsides, and in the valleys.

I did not learn that in college in any of my major subjects for my BSA major in Agricultural Education at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture, now the University of the Philippines Los Baños. I learned to think for myself reading books such as those of Rudolf Flesch, How To Write, Speak And Think More Effectively (1963), and of Edward de Bono, The Mechanism Of Mind (1968).

Teachers building sustainable societies: What was the Unesco thinking!?

So why do you think I came up with the photograph above? (I'm the fellow facing the camera, and I'm looking at my assigned cow from the Department of Agriculture cattle dispersal program; I'm a member of the Nagkaisa Multipurpose Cooperative in my hometown of Asingan in Pangasinan.) It's because my point is not obvious – you have to think to understand what my message is. Is the animal coming or going? (It just arrived.) Is the animal to be transferred to a nearby farm? (Yes.) Is the animal to be fed merely with grass cut every day from the fields nearby, or grown and given forage such as para grass? (Given forage – you could not have guessed this if you were thinking critically.)

The best that any teacher can do is teach his students how to think. And that is where I'm heading right now. The World Teachers' slogan could have been, "Empowering teachers in molding student thinkers."

There is a movement now in the United Kingdom to "boost critical thinking" by allowing students to use the Internet while taking exams (Robert Montenegro, May? 2015, bigthink.com). Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, an exam board that provides qualifications for pre-college in parts of the UK, argues:

Why shouldn't exams be tailored in such a way that promotes problem-solving, information-gathering, and self-teaching strategies?

With that statement from Dawe, this teacher knows that that teacher doesn't know the best way to teach, and not only the best way to answer exams; why, it's exactly what he has just said:

Teaching should be tailored in such a way that promotes problem-solving, information-gathering, and self-teaching strategies!

Now then, what kind of thinking should teachers be teaching in college anywhere? B Jean Mandernach et al of Park University say it should be "critical thinking" (March 2009, http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no1/mandernach_0309.pdf):

The current rise in online learning programs mandates that postsecondary faculty examine means of transferring successful, established critical thinking instructional strategies from the traditional classroom into the online environment.

What is critical thinking? There is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal tool currently in use in nursing (Kelly Bruning, May 2005, itdl.org):

This tool measures skill in performing inference, recognition of assumptions, deduction, interpretation, and evaluation of arguments, all of which are used during the process of reflection.

That certainly is a complete description of critical thinking, which is not simply googling for answers to questions during exams!

Critical thinking in college calls for the student to follow these 3 steps: Analyze, Compare, and Synthesize (Open University, open.ac.uk). Then, you examine the materials and ask questions: Presentation – Is the information clearly communicated? Relevance – Does the information match your needs? Objectivity – i Is the author's position or interest made clear? Method – What research methods were used, and how are the results reported? Etc. (That is critical thinking? Too complicated for me; I don't want to know any further!)

"Student success," says St Petersburg College in Florida, depends on "thinking critically in class and online" (spcollege.edu). The college defines critical thinking as "the active and systematic process of communication, problem solving, evaluation, analysis, synthesis, reflection, both individually and in community, to foster understanding, support sound decision-making and guide action." That's a mouthful and it actually covers both Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking – even if the author did not realize it.

The University of Massachusetts Boston certainly has the right perspective when it comes to teaching thinking in the classroom – they teach both Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking:

The Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) program at the University of Massachusetts Boston provides its students with knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts. Critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice are valued, of course, in all fields.

In critical thinking, we gather more data and information if necessary and analyze them with available materials:

In critical thinking we seek to scrutinize the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue – by others and by oneself; such scrutiny is enhanced by placing ideas and practices in tension with alternatives.

Did you notice how Critical Thinking can lead to Creative Thinking?

Key functions of creative thinking include generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions that are unique and effective, and exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, make new connections, and see how things could be otherwise. In reflective practice we take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise our approaches accordingly.

So:

If you're teaching Critical Thinking and not also Creative Thinking, you are denying your students more than half of their intellectual lives!

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