CREATIVITY, CRITICAL THINKING and CONTENT
I divide each Social Studies unit into content and conceptual mastery, analysis and creative interpretation because public education, has three core objectives:
1. To impart a body of knowledge and academic skills deemed valuable by society.
2. To teach the students to think analytically, critically and independently.
3. To render the students capable of discovering original insights and pursuing the discovery of new knowledge or invention.
The first goal has been delved into depth by educational researchers and gurus like E.D. Hirsh of “Cultural Literacy” fame, Chester Finn, William Bennett, Diane Ravitch and others, and is reflected in such legislation as NCLB, which has put tremendous pressure on school districts to focus on test scores in a few basic subjects and expanding the amount of content in the curriculum by increasing the time spent on rote memorization exercises and skill-based drills. Breadth but not depth.
The second goal is reflected in what used to be termed ” liberal education” or “Great Books” programs or the upper tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Schools do this less effectively across the nation but there is still a fair emphasis on eliciting critical thinking in public education, most of all in Honors and AP classes, gifted and talented classes and special programs like and Paideia and International Baccalaureate. Colleges and universities, of course, are also intended to focus on liberal education but the degree to which this is true in practice has declined since the 1960’s.
The final objective, made possible by the teaching of creative thinking and synthesis to students, public education does not do well at all at present, here or in any industrialized nation, where measurable declines in the creativity and problem-solving abilities of k-12 students appear across the board. Some people even consider creative thinking to be inimical to mastering content or logical analysis; this is untrue. One cannot think creatively or engage in analysis without content knowledge and content is itself meaningless unless the student can effectively put it to use in the real world. Content knowledge, critical thinking and creativity are like the three legs of a stool – our students need them all.
Ken Robinson, noted educational expert, giving a lively talk on creativity and public education ( 20 minute video clip):