Home > Class Requirements, Cognition, creativity, Education policy, Ideas, Methodology, units > Creativity, Critical Thinking and Social Studies Content

Creativity, Critical Thinking and Social Studies 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.  Depth in terms of high qualitative standards is the goal.

NCLB, by contrast, has put tremendous pressure on school districts to focus on test scores in a few basic subjects( Reading and Math) and decreasing the net amount of content in the whole curriculum ( across all subjects) by increasing the time spent on rote memorization exercises and skill-based drills. For NCLB “accountability” for “proficiency” not ” high standards” is the emphasis.

In my view, while we all need to be accountable for learning, a rich curriculum has to be part of the process if we are to help students prepare for the 21st century. Basic skills are a starting point, not an educational destination.

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):

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